The Reel Review
A New Orleans native working as a college professor in Montana gets into an escalating war of wills with two hunters trespassing on her property, in this neo-Western thriller starring Thandiwe Newton. It is based on James Lee Burke’s short story “Winter Light.”
What makes God’s Country so gripping is its unsettling realism – these types of escalating conflicts happen all too often. The film’s portrait of the remote isolation and vigilante justice of the American West also parallels its main character’s lifelong battle against sexism and racism, and the failure of institutions designed to guard against that – be it law enforcement or even the college where she teaches. Newton gives an exceptional, nuanced performance, blending defiance and despair. A couple of key reveals later in the film illuminate why her character is so focused on social justice.
Although at times there is quite a bit going on in God’s Country, co-writer/director Julian Higgins intentionally blends beautiful cinematography, clever camerawork and a slow, methodical pace to create an increasingly tense and haunting message about the chasm between big city and rural values. Systemic change is hard to come by, but vengeance is not.
• Emmy and BAFTA winner Thandiwe Newton (Westworld, Crash) split with husband Ol Parker in 2022, and is currently in a relationship with American musician Elijah Dias, known by his stage name Lonr.
• In the original short story, the college professor protagonist is a newly-retired white man. In the film, director Julian Higgins decided to make the protagonist a still-working black woman to add additional social layers to the story.
• God’s Country was filmed in Bozeman and Livingston, Montana