It’s been a week since Bud Ledbetter died when we meet his children Tracy (Amy Ryan) and Jesse (Terry Kinney) in “Abundant Acreage Available” on the tobacco farm the three had operated together for years. Being the middle of winter, the crops have been slashed down for the season and there’s a chill in the air that you can’t be entirely sure is emanating from mother nature or between the siblings, who can’t even decide on a place to bury their patriarch – the unsentimental Tracy is content to bury him below the field he worked whereas the born-again Jesse would prefer a more sacrosanct patch of land. This division is only exacerbated by the arrival of the three grey-haired Triggerston brothers, who set up camp on the property initially claiming their car broke down nearby, but whose timing so close to Bud’s death suggests an ulterior motive.
“Abundant Acreage Available” is the second feature directorial effort from Angus MacLachlan, who rose to prominence as the screenwriter of “Junebug” and followed up with the gift of “Goodbye to All That,” an agreeably thorny relationship comedy with Paul Schneider as a recently divorcee (not) enjoying the spoils of returning to bachelordom, and with a sharp ear for regional turn-of-phrase and great sensitivity to the past’s continual implications on the future, few make films as rich about the intersection of people and their place in the world as him. Allowing himself just five characters on a single location, MacLachlan’s latest may be his smallest-scale and laser-focused on the surface, though in many ways, it’s also his most ambitious, grappling with the idea of family and historical legacy as Tracy and Jesse’s confrontation with Hans (Max Gail), Charles (Steve Coulter) and Tom (Francis Guinan) grows into a thoughtful and captivating consideration about the transitory nature of life on this earth and what we regard as property. Still, the writer/director never makes the film ever feel out of reach for an audience, offsetting the bigger ideas with a folksy charm as the Triggerston boys and the Ledbetters engage in a (mostly) gentle tug-of-war over who the tobacco farm belongs to.
While things remain more or less tame between the families, despite their sharp disagreements, the acting is universally fierce and finely nuanced, with all five wearing all the context you need to understand where they’re coming from. Kinney’s turn as Jesse is particularly heartbreaking, his eyes prone to welling up like he’s seeing a wounded animal when his visitors arouse painful memories, and matched beat for beat by Ryan’s steely resolve in playing Tracy, who’s given her life to the farm and isn’t about to let it go. With such strong central performances, the crisp cinematography by Andrew Reed and Jeffrey Dean Foster’s sparse but pungent score beautifully accentuate a film that’s so thoroughly humane and as eager as the Ledbetters might be to rid their new guests, to spend time with these spirited and delightful characters is a privilege you don’t want to come to an end.
“Abundant Acreage Available” does not yet have U.S. distribution. It will play at the Tribeca Film Festival on April 22nd at 4 pm at the Cinepolis Chelsea, April 24th at the SVA 2 at 8:45 pm and April 25th at 8:45 pm at the Regal Cinemas Battery Park.