Dir. Rebecca Miller, US, 2005, 112 mins
Cast; Camilla Belle, Daniel Day-Lewis, Catherine Keener, Ryan McDonald
Review by Joyce Dundas
Rebecca Miller’s second feature as writer/director stars husband Daniel Day-Lewis as Jack, a 60s-style hippie who has dedicated his life to environmentalist causes and lives in an abandoned community on an isolated island on America’s east coast.
As he has grows older his staunchness shows no sign of diminishing. If anything he has become more obsessed with what considers the most important moral values, such as saving the island from property developers, and expects no less a commitment from his sexually-blossoming, teen daughter Rose (relative newcomer Camilla Belle). His wife, obviously having tired of this life, left him long ago.
Jack is a difficult, almost dislikeable, man, who uses his views as an excuse to eschew mainstream society, and in fact, any of the obligations it would bring. He is elitist in his views and as it becomes clear in the film that he has not money worries, he can actually afford that elitism and live his life any way he wants. His selfishness manifests itself in how he has forced his daughter to live the same way.
As you would expect from such an accomplished actor, Day-Lewis nails the character perfectly, even giving him a note-perfect Scottish accent, which only adds to his dour, world-weary persona.
Rose, however, is no longer the little girl who fits comfortably, both physically and emotionally, into her hideaway tree house. She is becoming a woman and as such is finding a unique set of problems that Jack is not entirely qualified to deal with. Unfortunately, it is at this early part of the film that the pacing drags slightly. Understandably, their life is not one of continuous movement, but at 112mins, a bit of introspection could have been trimmed from the film around here.
The catalyst for change, a word Jack is not fond of, occurs when his new girlfriend Kathleen – Catherine Keener in another wonderfully effortless performance - and her two dysfunctional teenage boys come to live in his remote home. Jack thinks that perhaps a woman’s touch might be what Rose needs. Rose makes it explosively clear on Kathleen’s first night in the house that this is not the case.
The boys only add to Jack’s woes, with one an overly sensitive, introverted loner and the other an overtly sexual, angry delinquent. It is clear that when the latter crosses Rose’s path the outcome will not please Jack. Rose makes the most of that situation by quite literally hanging her dirty laundry out in public. It is clear that Rose is torn between her frustration with this lonely life and the love of her father, whose health is also a constant cause for concern.
The film’s study of burgeoning sexuality and the hints at underlying incest will obviously raise questions as to what Rebecca is saying about her relationship with her own father Arthur Miller. She is much too intelligent a writer to have raised these issues accidentally, but it is difficult to see why exactly she felt the need to. It does add one more dimension to Jack and Rose’s story, but when it is finally explored on screen there is an almost immediate volte-face and it is taken no further.
There is also a very clear ending to the film if the filmmaker had wanted to use it and the audience will spot it right away.
The scenes at the end may not form the traditional happy ending but they seem unnecessary and quite frankly diminish the film’s strength. They may well have been in the original draft of the script, which was first billed as being co-written with Day-Lewis, but Miller should have stuck her neck out and gone for what would have been a shocking conclusion. The full impact of how Jack had controlled Rose’s life would have been all the more emotional if she had.
Day-Lewis fans will not be disappointed and Belle is definitely a talent to watch.
Discuss this film here
Entertainment in Video have announced the UK Region 2 DVD release of The Ballad of Jack & Rose for 7th August 2006 priced at £19.99.
Extras include Sound Bites and the Trailer.