Art imitates life- with good reason, because no imagined resource weaves the calibur of tales spun by the human experience. Life always tells the best stories. Certainly, there are great works of fiction out there, but let’s face it, the names and places have simply been changed to protect the identities of the innocent. They’re always rooted in a real world exchange of ideas and how people relate to one another.
The life stories which really capture and maintain my attention involve World War II and The American Civil War. The latter of which I truly admire, with tales like “Glory”, “Gettysburg”, “Gone with the Wind”, and “Ride with the Devil” all telling stories from that time in American History. But circling back to the ‘art imitating life’ drawing board, these stories share a commonality in that that they rarely are told from a woman’s perspective. And unlike “Cold Mountain”, very few have ventured there.
Now comes “The Keeping Room”, which is a story about the women left behind as the men fought in that Great War. It is 1865 and the South is losing the war, and with it lost a lot of its fathers and sons. On a farm in South Carolina, three women struggle to survive and manage their homestead, in the absence of the men who left them behind.
Augusta (Brit Marling), her sister Louise (Hailee Steinfeld) and a slave named Mad (Muna Otaru) band together to fight whatever comes their way. When a raccoon bites Louise, Augusta must go and look for medicine. In doing so, she inadvertently draws the attention of two forward scout soldiers from the Union Army, Moses (Sam Worthington) and Henry (Kyle Soller). The two are not just scouting, as the lack of men allow them to have their way with the women they come across. Soon the woman must defend their home and their lives.
This is a strong story of survival, but what really is at the forefront are the performances, lead by Marling and Worthington, who both play their roles to perfection. A big surprise is Otaru, who steals the second half of the movie as Mad. The story was written by Julia Hart, as a first time screenplay and directed by Daniel Barber (Harry Brown).
Storytelling and performances are what push this film directly into the spotlight. There are so many stories which can be told about this particular era, and to have one with three strong woman leads, is not only relevant, given the nature of the circumstances, but also long overdue.
Each year, so many small studio movies go unnoticed among the bigger ones. For every “Pixels” there is a Independent Film, like this one, that deserves recognition and should be sought out. The best things in life are found by that which we seek, not the other way around. The same can be said about movies, “The Keeping Room” is a film you should look for, because the reward is a great movie experience, with many things working for it. You will be glad you found this one.