In the last days of a dying logging town Christian (Paul Schneider) returns to his family hone for his father Henry's (Geoffrey Rush) wedding. While home, Christian reconnects with his childhood friend Oliver (Ewen Leslie), who has stayed in town working at Henry's timber mill and is now out of a job. As Christian gets to know Oliver's wife Charlotte (Miranda Otto), daughter Hedvig (Odessa Young) and father Walter (Sam Neill), he discovers a secret that could tear Oliver's family apart. As he tries to right the wrongs of the past, his actions threaten to shatter the lives of those he left behind years ago.
Review by Louise Keller:
Fractured lives form a complex maze in this stylish production whose individual parts are more complete than the whole. Actor and theatre director Simon Stone has based his plot on Henrik Ibsen's 19th century play The Wild Duck, which he first adapted to acclaim in 2011 for the Belvoir theatre. It's an intense work and not surprisingly the film is dense and unrelenting, never letting us off the hook as it canvasses its potent themes of secrets, lies, blame and guilt. I was engrossed by the elements and the superb look of the film, yet I felt a little disappointed that it never yields the emotional power that it should.
Nonetheless, the cast is terrific and the performances are strong, each troubled, interesting damaged in part - like the symbolic wounded duck. There is much pain on display - it is transferred from one character to the other as if in a relay. The fact that the relationships are dysfunctional is a given, but we are not as emotionally engaged as we could be. In many ways, I felt the perpetual angst plays out at arm's length, even though the intricate set of circumstances that has impacted deeply on the two families involved is thrown in our face.
He may not have the most screen time, but Sam Neill as Walter, the honourable father, grandfather and loyal friend towers above the rest. Neill is totally accessible emotionally: his Walter is multi-dimensional and very real. I also like Paul Schneider as Christian, the catalyst for the main action, whose vulnerabilities are on display from the outset. The empathy we feel for Christian when he arrives from the States after 15 or 16 years away changes into pity as his inability to deal with his demons comes to a head. Schneider is a great asset - a charismatic actor with an interesting look. Christian's disdain and resentment of his father Henry (Geoffrey Rush) is the film's most powerful theme. Rush offers a stilted, coldness to Henry, whose marriage to his young housekeeper (Anna Torv, reminiscent of a young Cate Blanchett) is unsuitable on every level. We can only assume that money is involved.
Ewen Leslie and Miranda Otta are both fine as Christian's old school friend and his wife Charlotte, who was Henry's former housekeeper, but there is something missing in the relationship between them, despite Stone's efforts to show their mutual lust. I especially like the scenes between Leslie and Schneider - the pivotal scene in which they down shots at the city pub plays well and is the beginning of the downslide. Christian's lost battle with the bottle is the endorsement of his self-loathing and the trigger for his revenge.
Finally, there is Odessa Young, the vulnerable title character as the innocent rebel Hedvig, who lovingly cares for the wounded duck that may never fly again.
The emotional spew effectively takes place on a tranquil, picturesque Australian rural backdrop. Mark Bradshaw's score adds to the ever-present sense of mystery and foreboding - epitomized by the enigmatic mist. Veronika Jenet's editing adds a syncopated feel with dialogue spilling from one scene to the next scene and in doing so, escalates the plights of the characters. It doesn't matter whether you are familiar with Ibsen's tale; the revelations come as little surprise. At first glance, the denouement may be less than satisfying to some, but enables us draw our own conclusions.
Email this article
DAUGHTER, THE (M)
CAST: Geoffrey Rush, Ewen Leslie, Paul Schneider, Miranda Otto, Anna Torv, Odessa Young, Sam Neill, Nicholas Hope
PRODUCER: Jan Chapman, Nicole O'Donohue
DIRECTOR: Simon Stone
SCRIPT: Simon Stone
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Andrew Commis
EDITOR: Veronika Jenet
MUSIC: Mark Bradshaw
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Steven Jones-Evans
RUNNING TIME: 95 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: March 17, 2016 (Advanced sneak sessions March 11, 12, 13)