By Theo MacDonald
The best part of The Leveling is its second sequence: a shot of a hare swimming in a river, lit so that the water is black and the resilient creature could be extra-terrestrial. It is a shame that the rest of the film cannot capture this feeling of beauty and the unknowable. Instead we get a relatively straightforward drama about Clover Catto (Ellie Kendrick), a veterinary student returning to her family farm because her brother has committed suicide and her dad (a guy who is apparently in The Archers) is in pieces and there’s been a flood and you can fill in the rest yourself. Hope Dickson Leach’s narrative is not experimental enough to excuse its minimalism and too conventional to claim its bareness as an advantage. It is just average. The performances, likewise, are not good. These notes of melodrama in Kendrick and the Dad’s performances feel out of key in a moody, realistic drama. Moreover, the resolution of these characters’ relationship feels unnatural and for the purpose of shoehorning in an, admittedly beautiful, dramatic final image. But the beauty of the scene in question is irrelevant when it comes at the expense of honesty. The strength in this film that every critic I have read liked and every audience member I have spoken to was ambivalent about is Dickson Leach’s direction. She is in command of her characters in a barely moving frame and also impressively creates tense sequences with limited means. Still, if she aspires to make films as good as Kelly Reichardt and Bruno Dumont, she needs to find an interesting story — not just an interesting way of telling one.