The film The Daughter opens at a small mill, which is about to close. The head of the factory, Henry Neilson (played masterfully by Geoffrey Rush) delivers the bad news to the group of men who now have no job prospects in a small town in New South Wales. He is the wealthiest man in town, which seems to be filled with tradition. Soon, though, families start to move out as the main driver of that small economy has dried out. Neilson is also engaged to his former housekeeper Anna (Anna Torv) and with an impending wedding his son Christian (Paul Schneider) flies in to make a special appearance.
The atmosphere is heavy, from the dozens of men who have just lost their jobs to the stranded relationship between father and son. It is in this environment where we meet young Hedvig (Odessa Young), a bright young woman bursting with buoyant energy. She is the daughter to local couple Oliver (Ewen Leslie) and Charlotte (Miranda Otto). The small family is not wealthy but content with bonds that appear to be stronger than any other and capable of overcoming any obstacle. Oliver and Christian happen to go way back, with a friendship through college that saw them as strong mates. Now, Christian is struggling to connect with his family and girlfriend, battling alcoholism and sees his old friend with a family that loves him deeply. It is the perfect setting for Christian to unravel, and so he does.
The story is based on Henrik Ibsen’s play The Wild Duck, which Director Simon Stone also adapted to the big screen. Although this focused family drama achieves a moody atmosphere through gorgeous cinematography by Andrew Commis and Mark Bradshaw’s sparse but beautiful score, the story lacks some freshness or at least some of the tension that keeps you glued to your seat. The film has a slow build-up, so tensions within the character feel rather heavy instead of driving the action.
The most remarkable element about The Daughter is film’s powerful performances. Rush has a mighty range that could make any actor jealous. He seems to transcend the screen in a way that carries the film forward. It is fitting that the film was a play; you can imagine this story playing out beautifully on stage. For the film medium, however, something feels amiss. It is not only that the plot is somewhat predictable, but the stylistic choices of the narrative seem to constrain the film in ways that make it somewhat traditional.
Another standout is newcomer Young as Hedvig, who must not only transmit the difficulties of first love with unflinching skill but also deliver a heartbreaking performance in one of the most dramatic scenes of the film. Young is able to convey that anguish and obstinate search for the absolute truth one seeks in early adulthood. The trials of facing disappointment for the first time in that young life is not a new idea, but the way Young carries it makes this drama feel authentic, even if a little predictable.
The Daughter runs 96 minutes and is not rated. It opens in our South Florida area at the Coral Gables Art Cinema on Feb. 24. For screenings nationwide please click here. A screener link was provided by Shotwell Media for the purposes of this review.