The Keeping Room – A unique and most welcome Western
Written by: Julia Hart
Directed by: Daniel Barber
The Western genre has long adhered to a specific outline for it’s tales. Bad men doing bad things and good men trying to stop them. Few have strayed from that central theme. That is why Daniel Barber’s “The Keeping Room” is so unique. It’s three central characters are women living in an isolated world without the immediate presence of men, good or bad.
With the Civil War entering it’s final days, Augusta (Marling), her sister Louise (Steinfeld), and an African-American slave Mad (Otaru) live on, on their family ranch in South Carolina. Living meager lives, and constantly aware of the threat of danger, the women struggle on among the rolling hills and picturesque fields surrounding them. When Louise is bitten by a raccoon, Augusta is forced to head into the nearby town, to seek help or medicine. There she unknowingly attracts the attention of two Union soldiers (Sam Worthington and Kyle Soller) who are scouting the area.
Having long avoided violence, but now standing face to face with it, the women prepare for the inevitable standoff with the two malicious men. The mood throughout the entire film is quietly eerie and there is a constant fear of coming death. Marling does an exceptional job at playing the matriarchal figure, and Steinfeld is excellent in a role as a scared young woman that is completely opposite her character from “True Grit”. It is Otaru though who really surprised me. Her character adds a strong depth to the film, especially when giving a stirring monologue at the climax of the movie.
The decision to focus on women’s suffering and racial themes, during the Civil War era, sets the unique tone for Julia Hart’s strong script. That coupled with the simultaneously bleak and gorgeous setting and the strong acting by the entire cast make “The Keeping Room” not only a film not to be missed, but an important entry into a male-driven genre. It is definitely one of the nice surprises of 2015.