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