No longer just about one man’s moral struggle to resist the violence ingrained in him, “God’s Country” still explores cycles of male aggression, especially in a tense sequence where the acting sheriff (Jeremy Bobb) intervenes in the feud. The near-calamitous results of this attempted de-escalation also reveal the hatred that many locals — white and native — have for law enforcement and identify another failing institution that Sandra cannot rely on.
But “God’s Country” is equally adept at portraying the accumulated burden of Sandra’s experiences as a black woman determined to carve out a place for herself in this rural, unstable part of the country, and as such, unwilling to give in would not be. what an inch of ground. in his dealings with the locals. Nathan, whom she first meets, eventually responds to this resilience with grudging admiration, even if the one we glean later was tainted by her upbringing. More terrifying is Samuel, played by White with a gaunt, wolfish hunger that could be more than an intimidation tactic. When Sandra follows him home and asks him: “Why are you like that? in an effort to gain the upper hand, the dark look in his eyes forces him to hastily retreat.
The film also documents the toll of Sandra’s exposure to other threats and forms of racial animosity and gender-based violence that constantly pollute the air, including at her university, where the head of the department (Kai Lennox) only considers inclusivity up to a point, and a revelation involving a student she raised (Tanaya Beatty) brings Sandra to a breaking point.
Newton, an actress of exceptional courage and grace who is able to communicate more emotion in a single quivering look than many pages of dialogue could exhibit at every turn magnifying the dramatic power of this story. (Indeed, Newton’s central role in HBO’s “Westworld” often seems designed to show it.) She’s in every scene in “God’s Country” and rises to the occasion with a performance of ferocious strength and vulnerability, the greatest of his career. Although the mood of solemn restraint in the film also characterizes her work, Newton lays bare Sandra’s inner struggle between lived defiance and learned despair as the fight of her life.
And so the progression of his character’s deep weariness – the hardening of his anger, his strength and his convictions into a cold, annihilating rage that drives the film to its conclusion – has about him the inevitability of a storm which is preparing, of a settling of scores and a tragedy. “Sometimes it seems like things never change,” Sandra tells her students. “But I promise you they do. They must.”
As “God’s Country” reaches its dark and uplifting final shot, we must ask ourselves what sacrifices will be necessary to break the cycles of violence and systemic oppression that have so influenced the history, society and self-knowledge of the world. ‘America. It’s a question posed in another way by the film’s very first scene, which takes place in a dark classroom, as a slide projector projects frame after frame of the American conquest against a screen – a rack of buffalo hides, two white men standing over a native tribesman, a black woman with a bruised eye – so no one but us now can see.
“God’s Country” hits theaters September 16.