By Adam Ray Palmer
Today’s review is a bit of a catch up for me personally. I wanted to see The Daughter at the 66th Berlinale this year but unfortunately I had to leave the day before its premiere.
Fortunately, the Phoenix in Leicester picked up the film to screen it this week so I’m not too far behind the world.
The Daughter has a cast with a mixture of experience but the movie is a debut for the director/writer on the big screen. It makes for an interesting formula…
This adaptation of Henrik Ibsen's The Wild Duck follows a man who returns home to discover a long-buried family secret. He attempts to put things right but this threatens the lives of those he left home 17 years before.
Christian (Paul Schneider) returns to New South Wales for the wedding of his father Henry (Geoffrey Rush) to his housekeeper (Anna Torv). The town is on the verge of collapse as Henry's mill is about shut down. This causes problems for Christian’s old best friend Oliver (Owen Leslie) as it is the town’s biggest source of income. Oliver’s wife Charlotte (Miranda Otto) and daughter Hedvig (Odessa Young) feel those effect as does his forgetful father Walter (Sam Neill). They all rely on his income. Each character in the narrative has a problem which climaxes in the final act.
As you may have gathered, this film is clearly character-driven. As always, there are pros and cons with this method. If done correctly, you get a film helmed by masterful performances but it also means the protagonists need to deliver the plot. Thankfully for The Daughter, the performances are strong. Odessa Young, The Daughter being only her second ever feature film, has a stormer in her role as the 15 year old girl with soon-to-be family problems. Her father, Oliver (Owen Leslie), who is about to lose his job; also puts in an incredible shift. The father and daughter relationship is tested to the limit in this film and their chemistry pays off.
However, because of the short run time at only 96 minutes, we have a limited amount of time to get to know the characters and their stories. Therefore, we can only build a small rapport with the protagonists. So when the big climatic scenes occur, we haven’t connected as well as the director would have hoped. The screen-time has been split equally across the seven characters but by doing this; we can only invest so much interest in each of them. The narrative suffers with this.
My biggest gripe is with the character of Christian. He comes back and ends up revealing the detrimental secret so the final act can unravel, but once he has been the snitch, Christian is surplus to requirements. The film builds his character up throughout as the guy who knows everything, and has alcohol problems (never really explored!) but in the end, it’s quite lacklustre in the way we are told.
There are very interesting side-plots that should be explored like Hedvig’s romance with Adam (her classmate), but that avenue is quickly quashed when he is pulled from the narrative due to Adam’s family moving away. We aren’t giving the time to develop and react, so when touching scenes occur, we can’t be fully embroiled.
The Daughter is pulled through by stellar performances, without those, it would be a disaster. The film isn’t far away from being a great indie movie, but it falls short on pivotal elements. The lengthy first act drags on and the conclusion is therefore rushed. The ending also leaves too many questions. But on the whole, the final ten minutes makes this film a three-star from a two-star. The heart strings are tugged and the cast’s performances pack a punch. It’s emotional and makes you sit up. If the film better prepares you for that ending, we’d be looking at a belter.
Cineroom’s Rating: 3 Stars
The Daughter screened this week at the Phoenix Leicester and will have a limited UK release – certificate 15
From Adam Ray Palmer, the Editor-in-Chief.
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