Friday, September 08, 2006

The Ballad of Jack and Rose (2005)

The Ballad of Jack and RoseDaniel Day-Lewis is one of those actors always worth watching. A 'method' actor who immerses himself totally in a role, to such an extent that one worries at times for his health and sanity, any film which features him is usually marked as something of an event.

In The Ballad of Jack and Rose Day-Lewis plays the part of Jack, an irascible, bitter character who lives on an abandoned island commune with his 16 year-old daughter, Rose, played by Camilla Belle. Property develpers are trying to move in at a time when Jack is becoming ill, and his daughter is changing from a child to a young woman. Jack allows his girlfriend and her two sons to move onto the island to join the couple, and the resultant change in the dynamics of the father-daughter relationship prove difficult for everyone.

Essentially an 'art house' picture about Rose's coming-of-age and about Jack's coming to terms with the disappointments of his life, there is little real meat to the story, and this is essentially a character piece. Although director Rebecca Miller is also credited as writer, one suspects that she had very little to do in terms of preparing a script - what we get here is a rather self-indulgent exercise in actor improvisation. Parts of it work rather well, but it's so slow moving, and so jarring in the way it's shot, that very early on in the film one stops caring about any of the characters and their bizarre lives. Hand-held camerawork too often comes across like bad home-movie footage, and while there's the occasional breathtaking natural beauty shot (Miller seems very good with plants and flowers) too often there are jarring cuts within a scene that make one wonder if someone maliciously cut a foot or two out of middle of the film reel, regardless of the fact it's mid-scene, to take as a souvenir.

Day-Lewis himself doesn't disappoint, adopting a convincing Scottish accent and Gypsy-like demeanour as a man whose simmering rage is always visible below the surface. The real surprise here is that Camilla Belle is able to rise to his level. She has to carry great, heavy long segments of the movie alone, and manages to do so, with a beauty and inner peace that is at times breath-taking. I would be surprised if we don't hear a lot more about this amazing new actress in the future.

Interestingly, for an 'art' or 'indie' film, the general public seem to like this a whole lot more than the critics one would normally expect to warm to this sort of thing. But if my 'borderline bad' rating seems harsh, check out the rottentomatoes critics rating of 46% which falls even lower to 41% when the 'cream of the crop' critics are averaged out instead. The Ballad of Jack and Rose isn't a BAD film, but it's a rather weak one that's too self-indulgent and slow-paced to be in any way enjoyable. It's a film to be admired, rather than liked, but somehow it fails even on that level.

The film is presented in anamorphic widescreen and the DVD itself is rather bare-bones, probably not surprising given the low budget and lack of box office success. What you get on the DVD is a trailer and about 20 minutes of sound bites. This latter feature is very rough with simple questions appearing on title cards as the only acknowledgement of any sort of editing having taken place. Nevertheless, getting an interview with the reclusive, and often difficult, Daniel Day-Lewis is more than one could have expected, particularly given the fact that he appears relaxed and even to be enjoying himself. All of the main characters and the actor/director are featured.

If you're channel hopping and The Ballad of Jack and Rose shows up one evening, it's probably worth sticking with for 10 to 15 minutes to see if you can cope with the snail-like pacing, and enjoy the film for its acting if not its script. Otherwise this is a DVD that's probably of little interest to most of us.

screen capture from 'The Ballad of Jack and Rose'

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