The Ballad of Jack and Rose Movie Review

For some people isolation means happiness. Such is the case of Jack and Rose, father and daughter (Daniel Day-Lewis and Camilla Belle), living sparingly and deeply enjoying it on an island off the Pacific Northwest. In earlier days, it was the setting for a commune -- one that Jack built, led, and closed down as times and manias changed. Now, with the funds from a buyout in his bank account, his comforts are secure, and that's a bit of heaven for Rose who not only adores her father and cherishes her life, but will protect both with all her energy and life force.

A couple of problems threaten to spoil the remote idyll. Jack has a terminal heart condition and they both know his days are numbered. What each wants to do about it differs monumentally. For her part, Rose is devoted to the idea of committing suicide as soon as dad leaves his mortal coil, feeling she couldn't face life without him. In the wisdom of maturity and a wider scope of options, Jack would like to live out the remainder of his life with a companion who, at the same time, would become a replacement adult supervisor for teenager Rose when he's gone. Nice plan -- one that even a normal father might well dream up. And, since he's been dating Kathleen (Catherine Keener) during his rare visits to the mainland, and likes her, he asks her to come live with him and Rose.

Kathleen arrives with a rented trailer full of her and her two boys' belongings, plus the two boys: Thadius (Paul Dano), a slim, self-styled Romeo living on lust, and Rodney (Ryan McDonald), a shy, overweight, more even-tempered lad. Rose is beside herself at suddenly having to share her home and barely gives the new additions to the household the time of day. Interactions develop and things predictably come apart.

I mentioned two problems. The subplot involves the housing development being built up to the borders of Jack's remaining property. To demonstrate just how far this ex-commune leader and rugged individualist will go to protest commercial encroachment, he sneaks up to the construction site and shoots his shotgun into the air -- a ritual to scare off the crew like a flock of city pigeons.

This brings Marty Rance (Beau Bridges) to his door. In an attempt to reach a civilized understanding through reason, the affable developer dares to pay a visit to his abnormal and reclusive neighbor, an effort whose futility is made evident when Jack later highjacks an idle bulldozer and inflicts more direct destruction to one of Rance's model houses.

After more collisions and disappointments and Jack's deteriorating physical condition, Rose makes her statement of finality regarding the changing landscape of her life. It is so extreme that it suggests a mental imbalance -- one molded by the temperament and thinking of the hostile anti-social hermit who is her role model.

This intensely personal story of idiosyncratic mentality and steely backbone is another opportunity for Daniel Day-Lewis to demonstrate the stimulating power of his talent. His Jack is a study of unbending character that is attention-getting, off-putting, and weirdly sympathetic. He shows us a man with a warped vision of social order, whose anger and conviction is expressed through antic, abhorrent, sometimes funny behavior that we somehow can't condemn nor fully embrace.

The workings of Rose's mind is organically revealed by Camilla Belle, whose dark, piercing eyes add expressiveness with an edge of mystery to her character's feisty and stubborn temperament. She convinces us that Rose is, indeed, her rebellious father's daughter. Keener has rarely been more natural and neurotically appealing; Bridges' tendency toward over-expression is held in check while he puts some dimension into a stereotypical character; McDonald and Dano add nicely defined teenage traits to the well-constructed ensemble.

In the flow of nuanced relationships amid social protest, writer-director Miller, the daughter of playwright Arthur Miller and wife of Day-Lewis, demonstrates some parental genetics with her uncompromising offbeat tragedy of character and choice. But, though we may admire or applaud some aspects of her intensely fashioned father and daughter, they inspire more spectator interest than a close and affecting connection. The astute color and camerawork (except, perhaps, for a few handheld moments) of Ellen Kuras contributes a finely textured visual context. The appeal of the piece is limited; the telling of it is accomplished.

Rose in the grass.


The Ballad of Jack and Rose Rating

" Good "

Rating: R, 2005


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