The Daugh­ter

THE DAUGH­TER, drama, not rated, The Screen, 3 chiles

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Aus­tralian theater di­rec­tor Si­mon Stone had a crit­i­cal suc­cess with his 2011 adap­ta­tion of Ib­sen’s The Wild Duck. Here he’s adapted it fur­ther, set­ting the film in mod­ern-day Aus­tralia, in a back­woods one-in­dus­try town whose one in­dus­try, a lum­ber mill, is clos­ing its doors.

The mill has been in the fam­ily of Henry Niel­son (Ge­of­frey Rush) for gen­er­a­tions, and as the movie opens, Henry, a chilly pa­tri­cian cap­tain-ofind­us­try sort, is break­ing the news to his work­ers. One of them is Oliver Finch (Ewen Les­lie), a good-hearted good old boy mar­ried to Char­lotte (Mi­randa Otto), a school­teacher. They have a teenage daugh­ter, the pinkhaired Hed­vig (Odessa Young), who has a soft spot for dam­aged an­i­mals. And when Henry goes hunt­ing and wings a wild duck, her grand­fa­ther Wal­ter (Sam Neill) brings the wounded bird to Hed­vig to nurse back to health.

Ev­ery­body’s con­nected in a lit­tle town like this. Some of the con­nec­tions are be­nign, and some are ma­lig­nant. Wal­ter, who is Oliver’s dad, used to be Henry’s part­ner in the mill, and years ago did time for some kind of fi­nan­cial chi­canery, for which he may have taken the fall for Henry. Henry is about to marry his much younger house­keeper Anna (Anna Torv), with whom he’s been hav­ing an af­fair. His es­tranged son Chris­tian (Paul Sch­nei­der) has grudg­ingly re­turned for the event from his home in Cal­i­for­nia, where he has been deal­ing with ro­man­tic trou­bles and with­drawal from a drug and al­co­hol prob­lem. Back in the old days, be­fore he went away, Chris­tian was best friends with Oliver. Not long af­ter Chris­tian left for Amer­ica, his mother com­mit­ted sui­cide. From Oliver, Chris­tian learns that Char­lotte, who came along af­ter Chris­tian’s de­par­ture, worked for a time as Henry’s house­keeper, be­fore she mar­ried Oliver and gave birth to Hed­vig. Our ducks are now in a row. One of the ma­jor is­sues with which this story grap­ples is the mat­ter of truth-telling, and whether or not it is al­ways a good thing. As Chris­tian grows in­creas­ingly un­happy, and his bit­ter­ness to­ward his fa­ther deep­ens, he falls off the wagon, and as his life races to­ward the rocks, he de­cides to take oth­ers down with him. He does this in the ser­vice of truth, con­vinc­ing him­self in his booze-and-coke-ad­dled sanc­ti­mo­nious­ness that his friend “de­serves to know the truth” about a dark fam­ily se­cret Chris­tian has un­cov­ered.

Stone has done a nice job of trans­fer­ring the Ib­sen play to the out­back, where it takes on melo­drama that may be more overt but is not in­con­sis­tent with the orig­i­nal. There’s one wildly ill-ad­vised scene in a class­room, with Hed­vig in a shout­ing match with her mother, but mostly the skill of the ac­tors, es­pe­cially Neill and Rush but with nice work as well from the younger gen­er­a­tion, keeps things in­volv­ing, though the Aussie ac­cents can some­times be tough to pen­e­trate. — Jonathan Richards

Teenage melo­drama: Odessa Young

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