A tight ensemble of five seasoned actors explores questions of grief, faith, mortality and legacy in Abundant Acreage Available, which takes director Angus MacLachlan to a lonely North Carolina tobacco farm, not too distant from the setting of his breakout screenplay, Junebug. This drama is an altogether more somber affair, with Amy Ryan and Terry Kinney lending gravitas as siblings still absorbing the death of their father when strangers arrive with unsettling revelations. However, while the intriguing setup pulls you in, this gentle American heartland story peters out into an unsatisfying payoff.
Unfolding entirely in and around the farmhouse where Tracy (Ryan) and Jesse (Kinney) until recently have been nursing their father through the final stages of cancer, the script could easily be a play. Casting gifted stage actors like Ryan and Steppenwolf Theatre Company members Kinney and Francis Guinan furthers that impression. What theatrical scope the material does possess comes from the wintry Southern skies and sprawling fields against which the characters’ upended lives are measured.
Four funerals and no wake.
Headstrong Tracy is burying her father’s ashes in a crop field as the film opens, ignoring the urging of her religious brother to plant the old man in consecrated ground in the nearby woods. As winter settles in, they go through the melancholy process of clearing the house of all the medications and rented equipment required for their father’s care. His passing makes it seem to Jesse like the right time to sell the struggling property and move on.
Their solitude is disrupted when three aging brothers arrive and pitch a tent in their field. It soon emerges that the strangers lived on the farm as boys, and haven’t returned since they moved to Florida almost 50 years ago. Tracy dismisses them as crazy and wants them gone, but Jesse is willing to entertain their semi-serious offer to buy back the farm and return with the ashes of their father.
The eldest of the three, Hans (Max Gail), has health-related reasons for wanting to return to the beloved setting of his childhood. Middle brother Tom (Guinan) has had a severe stroke that robbed him of his kindness and left him mean and prone to spouting blunt obscenities. The youngest, Charles (Steve Coulter), is the most discreet of them, his quiet courtesy fostering a tentative connection with the lonely Tracy, who views herself as cold.
Hans reveals to Jesse that their father was a drunk, and their mother sold the farm for a fraction of its worth when he was in the county lockup. Jesse, who became a born-again Christian to atone for a tragedy in his wild youth and is still struggling to forgive himself, sees a possibility for redemption in returning the property to them. And while Tracy is vociferous in her objections, her brother reminds her she’s adopted, making her the only one among them without blood ties to the land.
MacLachlan sets up a lot of interesting possible ways in which this scenario could play out, maintaining a shrewd degree of ambiguity about the intentions of Hans, in particular, and teasing the prospect of reciprocal emotional rescue for Tracy and Charles. He also stirs in undeveloped ideas about the human debts incurred on ground that has seen bloodshed from the Civil War, slavery and Native American massacres.
But none of this comes together into a compelling final act. While Tracy remains the ostensible center of the story, the character is shortchanged by the abrupt wrap-up — left hanging by a handsomely made film that’s a solid showcase for its actors but doesn’t appear to have figured out exactly what it wants to say. The ashes of multiple bodies have been laid to rest in the field by the time the end credits roll, but there’s too little lingering sense of ongoing lives having changed.
Production company: Abundant Productions
Cast: Amy Ryan, Terry Kinney, Max Gail, Francis Guinan, Steve Coulter
Director-screenwriter: Angus MacLachlan
Producers: Angus MacLachlan, Kate Churchill
Executive producers: Martin Scorsese, Jeanne Hagerty
Director of photography: Abdrew Reed
Production designer: Lisa Myers
Costume designer: Tere Duncan
Music: Jeffrey Dean Foster
Editor: Michael R. Miller
Casting: Henry Russell Bergstein, Allison Estrin
Venue: Tribeca Film Festival (U.S. Narrative Competition)
Sales: The Gersh Agency