Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Ballad of Jack and Rose (Film Review)

The Ballad of Jack and Rose

There are very few actors about whom I can honestly say I’d see anything that they appear in (a larger number of actresses, but that’s not exactly for the same reasons). Of that very small group, Daniel Day-Lewis surely tops the list. He is an incredible actor, one of the best working today, and has impressive screen presence to boot. His appearence in Gangs of New York is one of my top ten favorite movie performances by anyone ever, and he’s almost as good in There Will Be Blood. In addition, he’s one of the most selective actors, willing to spend five years as a cobbler in Venice if he doesn’t like a project.

So I figured I was bound to like 2005’s The Ballad of Jack and Rose. And indeed, he’s very good in it. But the rest of the production is meaningless drivel, the sort of thing that people are referring to when they say ‘art-house movie’ pejoratively. It features a cast of distasteful characters who, although almost all played by competent-to-good actors (Catherine Keener, Paul Dano, Beau Bridges, Jena Malone, and Jason Lee all show up), wind up being almost unwatcheable. Some moral ambiguity is great, but poorly written such characters become merely unlikeable. And that is indeed what happens here. That even Jack is interesting is really a testament to Day-Lewis’ skill and charisma. Rose could have been a (somewhat) interesting character, but Camilla Belle is just not good enough an actress to do much with what she’s given

Plot summary that gives the movie waaaaaaaaay too much credit and makes it sound much more interesting than it actually is (source here): The story is essentially a modern take on the Garden of Eden, complete with both literal and metaphorical snakes. At times, The Ballad of Jack and Rose is almost top-heavy with symbolism. (Miller's father, the late playwright Arthur Miller, was also fond of this literary tool.) Jack (Daniel Day-Lewis) and his teenage daughter, Rose (Camilla Belle), have lived in relative isolation for many years in a disused commune on "an island off the East Coast of the United States." Since they grow their own food and make their own electricity (using windmills), they have little need of outside support. Their only regular visitor is a gardener (Jason Lee) who delivers flowers for Rose to plant. Jack often visits the mainland while Rose remains behind, tending to her garden. But Jack is dying. His heart is weak, and he is concerned about what will happen to Rose, who has indicated that she intends to commit suicide when he dies. So he strikes up a relationship with Kathleen (Catherine Keener), and invites her and her two sons, Thadius (Paul Dano) and Rodney (Ryan McDonald), to come live with him. The arrival of these strangers is a shock to Rose, and their entrance into the previously closed system leads to a loss of innocence for her and a radical shift in her relationship with Jack.

The movie has little plot, and what it does have is some combination of disturbing (the incest aspect of the story, which needs to be far better written to be anything more than distasteful), pointless, and pretentious. It is, as I said before, meaningless drivel, the sort of thing that cinema snobs and holier than thou critics might embrace but is of little use to the rest of us.

So will I continue to watch anything that Daniel Day-Lewis appears in? Well…okay, I still will. I love me some DDL.

4.5/10 Horrible/Bad.

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