Social media is never mentioned in God’s Country. No one even so much as pulls out a smartphone. And yet that seems to be what it’s about – the rush to judgment in a world of hot takes and the corrosive effect that that sort of behaviour has on public discourse.
Thandie Newton is the star, now flying under her given name of Thandiwe, a woman we meet in a state of emotional shock after the death of her mother, a university teacher in a redneck world who becomes fixated on the hunters who park their red station wagon on her land before they head off with rifles for a day’s shooting.
It’s only a car and she’s got plenty of land – her fancy schmancy plate-glass-and-timber house sits pristine and remote – but no one ever asked her if it was OK to park there and that’s pissed her off.
Is it because Sandra (Newton) is black that they’ve taken this liberty? Is it because she’s a member of the despised elite, unlike Nathan (Joris Jarsky) and Samuel (Jefferson White), a pair of good old boys whose eyes telegraph what they might like to do to Sandra if they weren’t quite so well mannered.
At work Sandra is withdrawn, even when the talk at staff meetings turns to affirmative action, inclusivity policies, quotas, and she, as the only non-white person around the table, is expected to have an opinion. She has none, or if she does she doesn’t express it.
Permissions not sought, opinion not offered, discourse, in short, not entered into – let’s see where that gets us is what director Julian Higgins and his co-writer Shaye Ogbonna then treat us to, in a series of slowburn escalations playing out in matt grey landscapes where the sun never shines and joy seems to be a way off.
Emollient diplomacy, rubbing along, compromise, despised terms in some people’s books and yet, without them, where are we? In a world of shouting extremism, where every position, once taken, becomes a hill to die on, and backing down is never an option. See Twitter.
The key scene in God’s Country comes when Sandra, who we learn was once a New Orleans cop and knows a thing or two, decides to do some detective work and follows Nathan, the owner of the station wagon. To her surprise, from the vantage point of her car, she sees him pick up an elderly woman and take her to a local church. The old lady happens to be the church organist. Now tucked at the back of the church, Sandra catches Nathan’s eye and they start to talk. Her mother, too, was a church organist, Sandra tells him. Her mother, too, played this hymn. For a brief moment, in proximity to each other on the hard church seating but not quite making eye contact, Sandra and Nathan connect in whispers over mutual experience…
As said, no sun, grey landscapes, and Andrew Wheeler’s cinematography is almost all greyscale stuff. Newton is tamped down, and Jarsky and White (cheekbones bound for glory) deliver menace with the foot off the gas.
This is where the real world lives, somewhere in the middle, in a world of petty and relentless engagement (and compromise). Twitter memes meet the real world, where identity politics, second amendment rights, appropriate behaviour, sexism, racism, the elite versus the left behind and various other pressing concerns are also dealt with, just in a slightly less confrontational way.
So, a happy ending, right? Higgins and Ogbonna aren’t going that far. But they have, unlike Sandra, had their say, eloquently and in timely fashion, made their point and then left us to inwardly digest and reflect. Nicely, neatly done.
God’s Country – Watch it/buy it at Amazon
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© Steve Morrissey 2022