“THE KEEPING ROOM” My rating: B- (Opens Oct. 30 at the Alamo Drafthouse)
95 minutes | MPAA rating: R
The Civil War drama “The Keeping Room” opens with a quote from Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman to the effect that war is cruel — and that the crueler it is, the sooner it will be over.
Not a happy thought. Not a happy movie.
But despite a tendency toward preciousness, Daniel Bart’s period drama effectively conveys the desperation, ugliness and moral vacuum of war — not by depicting the chaos of battle but by describing the plight of unfortunate civilians in its path.
Augusta and Louise (Britt Marling, Hailee Steinfeld) are sisters living on their once-prosperous family farm. But all the men are off fighting for the Confederacy and things are slowly falling apart. Their only companion is the slave woman, Mad (Muna Otaru).
In better days the sisters no doubt lived pampered lives — Louise, the younger, still exudes the attitude of a spoiled aristocrat — but the war has turned everything topsy turvey. Now all three women must work the fields if they’re to keep eating.
Meanwhile a pair of soldiers, Moses and Henry (Sam Worthington and Kyle Soller) are marauding their way around the countryside — raping, stealing and murdering with impunity. They claim they were sent by the Union Army to soften resistance, though it’s difficult to believe their murderous excesses are sanctioned. Their clothing is a mishmash of civilian items and those scavenged from the dead of both armies. They may simply be deserters out to indulge their worst instincts.
A confrontation between the three women and the killers is inevitable — especially after Moses casts eyes on Augusta at a general store, determines to have her, and tracks her back to the homestead.