Thandiwe Newton gives the best of his career to the country of God


Thandiwe Newton delivers the best of his career in a thriller bristling with racial tensions.

God’s country shows a rarely described place in America. There is an immensity, an emptiness in the house of Sandra Guidry (Thandiwe Newton). She moved from New Orleans to the countryside. It’s the kind of place where a single law enforcement man covers hundreds of miles of ground. A black professor in an all-white department at a local university, Guidry lives alone in her home on acres of land, a prime hunting ground for those hoping to shoot and score. Julian Higgins’ thriller unravels like a match, a burn that erodes everything until there’s nothing left to destroy.

For Newton, it’s a low-key role, playing a woman on edge. Terrific in the role of Guidry, the actress offers a deep sense of anger and pain, a distance with everyone and everything that happens around her. Guidry is recovering from the loss of his mother. In this process, there has also been a loss of trust. Newton shows little emotion as such, with a coldness pervading his character and the rest of Higgins’ first film.

As for the writer/director, the film represents the first step towards, hopefully, something bigger. It’s a dignified start that crackles and stings the senses, meticulously and beautifully composed. Every shot in the film puts forward the idea that Higgins knows what he’s doing, that audiences are in good hands during this updated form of western.

Thandiwe Newton is trying to survive in God’s Country. (IFC Films)

One day, Guidry finds a red truck on his property, accompanied by two local white hunters. Brothers who have been on the wrong side of the law before, the Hunters enter a game of chess with the Professor, testing each other mentally and physically. As the situation becomes increasingly violent, Guidry’s exhaustion comes to the fore. Racial tension permeates his life. She exists without a sense of complete security or ownership, surrounded by white men who overstep the mark.

God’s country fills the supporting roles of recognizable actors without being famous. All give good, if not excellent performances in this sharp little story, filling in the gaps around Newton. She remains the center of attention, however, remaining composed for most of the film. Her composure is more telling than her outbursts, filling each scene with years of slights against her. Newton is terrific as Guidry, a character that allows him to deliver sustained and steady acting triumph.

Newton is terrific as Guidry, a character that allows him to deliver sustained and steady acting triumph.

The film is unsuspecting in its prescience and its connection to the present moment. Higgins creates a story full of racial tension, with micro and macro assaults on the only person of color in his film. He seems hyper-aware of what he’s doing, leaving nothing to interpretation, forcing the audience to think about how most of our country thinks and acts. God’s country is a split film – horrors exist without repercussions, racism exists without guilt, and consequences occur without change.

If nothing else, God’s country remains a confident start, brimming with ideas and skill. The western drama/thriller offers the possibility of a career-best performance from Newton and an opportunity to slowly make audiences uncomfortable, make their hair stand on end over time, and instill a sense of prolonged anxiety. Higgins’ film is a simple, straightforward battle for land and control; the outcome is already somewhat decided – there are no winners in this fight. Except (maybe) Thandiwe Newton.

God’s country takes you to the must-see places from September 16 in theaters.

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