America, 1986. Sickly Jack (Day-Lewis) and his 16 year-old daughter Rose (Belle) live on the site of his abandoned commune on a remote island on the East Coast. Tensions arise when Jack’s girlfriend Kathleen (Keener) comes to live with them, along with her two sons, Rodney (McDonald) and Thaddius (Dano).
Daniel Day-Lewis makes so few films, it’s a wonder that any can live up to the expectation of breath-held fans, and while his wife Rebecca Miller’s screenplay has many charms, this is unlikely to bowl over his followers. Admittedly, Day-Lewis’ performance as wilful, terminally ill eco-warrior Jack is pitch-perfect: there’s an exceptional scene in which he embraces his daughter Rose (Belle), a touch on her lips betraying a wealth of sexual confusion. But the subtlety of said scenes is undermined by clumsy symbolism surrounding Rose’s subsequent awakening (a snake breaks loose from its box, for heaven’s sake), and the destruction of their
Typically of Miller, the characters are the saving grace: along with the eccentric father and the dangerously jealous daughter, Kathleen’s sharp-witted, good-natured son Rodney (McDonald) is a stand-out. Keener, too, puts in an enjoyable performance as the lonely mother willing, but possibly unable, to compromise in order to find love. Although quite why a girl who’s lived alone with her Scottish father for years still speaks with an American accent is never explained.
Day-Lewis doesn’t get much chance to stretch himself in this atmospheric drama whose characters outshine a limited script.
Reviewed by Anna Smith