“The Keeping Room” Is Less Civil War Epic and More Hot Mess IFFB: Independent Film Festival Boston Reviews

By Scott Kurland

Film: The Keeping Room
Starring: Brit Marling, Hailee Steinfeld, Muna Otaru, and Sam Worthington
Rated R
Director: Daniel Barber

   It’s amazing how many films there are about the Civil War that don’t actually show the actual war part. “Lincoln” was all about ending slavery and the war, however, never once do we see a battle. “Dances With Wolves” forgoes the actual war for a bigger story about love and friendship. Don’t even get me started on “Gone With The Wind”. There’s so many films set in the north and south during the CIvil War, but you could probably count all the films that take place in battle on one hand. This week’s film “The Keeping Room” is the final entry from the IFFB: Independent Film Festival Boston. It’s also a Civil War film without the Civil War. Let’s find out if it’s any good shall we?

  “The Keeping Room” is the story of two sisters, Augusta (Brit Marling) and Louise (Hailee Steinfeld). Along with their slave Mad (Muna Otaru), they are stuck tending their family farm while their father and brother fight for the confederacy. As these three ladies find their strengths together, they face a greater evil in the form of two rogue Union Soldiers (Sam Worthington and Kyle Soller) who are hell bent on taking their land and maybe something more valuable, their innocence. Will Augusta lead Louise and Mad in a three woman war against these men? Or will she die trying?

  Why sugarcoat it? I hated this film, a so called film about feminism that showed no feminism. All three female leads are fantastic, especially Brit Marling whom I loved in “Another Earth”. Marling tries her best to carry this film, but there’s nothing to carry. The direction is uninspired, the plot is weak at best, and my biggest beef with this film is the casting. Originally, Olivia Wilde was cast as Augusta leading to Hailee Steinfeld as Louise. Yet, when Wilde dropped out and Marling was cast they should have recast Louise. There is no believability to Marling and Steinfeld being sister. Marling is this beautifully angelic pale, blonde hair, blue eyed woman with personality. Steinfeld is a gorgeous olive skinned, brown hair, brown eyed girl. Side by side they do not look like siblings. The lack of correct casting leads to the films biggest problem, plot.

  “The Keeping Room” is supposedly a film about empowering women against intruders. However as soon as the film shifts into a story about defending the homestead, it is less “The Keeping Room” and more “Home Alone”. If you truly think about it the plots are very similar. A blond hair blue eyed protagonist must fend off two inept intruders and is aided by an unlikely acquaintance. Instead of a bird lady or lonely neighbor ,the unlikely help is a former slave indentured to the family. The only difference is when they replace slipping on micro machines with shooting off dueling pistols at close range. 

   This film is very upsetting. What should be a pro-woman tale of courage is quickly turned into a mysongist tale of alcoholism, mistaken identity, and sexual abuse of a minor. I felt very uneasy watching this film. I understand many others might like this movie, I am not one of them. The more I thought about Daniel Barbers war time epic, the angrier I got. Barber made the overlooked Michael Caine thriller “Harry Brown”. Everything that didn’t worked in that film is center stage in “The Keeping Room.” The pacing is too slow, the characters are underdeveloped, but the worst offense is how poorly written this story is. This plot has no leg to stand on,  there’s very little substance to this film. After the first act, theres no motivation that leads to the film’s climax. 

   “The Keeping Room” is not the worst film of the year, but for what is trying to be it is awful. This film is so dead set on being Oscar bait, but what it ends up being a cruel reminder that women in films are treated so poorly. “The Keeping Room”is set to be released in September around Oscar time, but this is one war drama you can skip. The acting is the films only redeemable quality. Sam Worthington vanishes into his role, however acting alone isn’t enough to recommend this film. I wanted to like this film, I truly did. However, the three female leads are put through such hell it is painful to watch. Do yourself a favor and skip “The Keeping Room.”

Review Rating: D