Small town life is poignantly examined in the modest Tribeca drama “Abundant Acreage Available.” A humanist narrative about family, faith, and grief, ‘Acreage’ is an intimate film with few outsized dramatic moments, but as anchored by Amy Ryan’s mannered yet commanding performance—her finest in years—this lovely little story sensitively absorbs.
‘Acreage’ begins with a makeshift funeral, a bereaved Tracy (Ryan), who’s taken care of her ailing father for years, attempts to bury the box of his ashes in the fields of her farm. Protesting loudly, or at least as loud as a soft-spoken man can, Jesse (her deeply religious sibling – an equally compelling character actor Terry Kinney in one of his meatier role), fights to bury their father in consecrated grounds. He relents for now, as the emotionally wounded Tracy is as stubborn as they come.
As the pair sorrowfully empty their house of their father’s medical aids, bed pans, pills, hospital beds, quietly communicating years of slow suffering, they ponder their next steps on this tobacco ranch as middle age farmers with no family but each other. But their mourning is interrupted by three mysterious brothers who upend their lives.
At first, the aging older brothers Hans (Max Gail), the more sensible Charles (Steve Coulter) and the mostly senile Tom (Francis Guinan), just seem like quirky strangers with a broken-down car camping on their land. But gradually, these interloper’s larger plans are revealed.
What unfolds is a subtle story about birthrights and legacy—notions that tend to arise when confronted with one’s own mortality. Gentile yet captivating, the siblings then wrestle with the notions of ownership and what, if any, moral obligation they have to these elderly men with designs on the farm.
The sophomore directorial effort by keen-eyed filmmaker Angus MacLachlan (the screenwriter behind “Junebug”), ‘Acreage’ doesn’t hit with the same emotional impact as the director’s last film, the criminally underrated “Goodbye To All That,” but it compels regardless. Moreover, the small-scale indie proves that MacLachlan has still plenty of affecting things to say about loss, tragic aftermaths, and life in flux. Confrontations in “Abundant Acreage Available,” are relatively discreet outside of Tracy’s rare bursts of indignation, but the MacLachlan deftly understands the inner lives of modest people and how to craft minor, but palpable conflict.
While the cast is uniformly great, it’s the symphony of minute emotions that play across the face of Amy Ryan that really sells this story of internalized anguish. Her impressive, largely unspoken expression of lament is an important reminder that Ryan is one of the best actresses working today.
MacLachlan’s humble commitment to the subtle features and specificity of the film is bold and mature. Most filmmakers wouldn’t dare attempt to direct, much less write, a movie this spare. Clearly, MacLachlan is coming from an authentic place of personal pain— you can’t fake the melancholic sense of endings and uncertain futures.
Meditatively absorbing, its delicately handled questions of faith are presumably why Martin Scorsese agreed to appear as executive producer on the film. And the low-key movie, while unlike his, are still worthy of his imprimatur.
READ MORE: Amy Ryan Doesn’t Care What You Think In This Exclusive Clip From ‘Abundant Acreage Available’
As its title suggest, “Abundant Acreage Available” wrestles with the notions of possessions and wealth. Tracy and Charles are far from rich, but MacLachlan has his characters wrestle with the idea of how much is enough and how much we as people really need. All the while, both of them aggrieve, and in their own personal ways stare down death. While “Abundant Acreage Available” might be a little too restrained for mainstream audiences, the value of this resonant drama and its soulful simplicity should not be understated. [B].