The Ballad of Jack and Rose (2005)
The Ballad of Jack and Rose (2005)
Director: Rebecca Miller
Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Catherine Keener, Camilla Belle
Synopsis: A father and daughter isolated on an island off the East Coast and living on a once thriving commune grapple with the limits of family and sexuality.
Jack (Daniel Day-Lewis – Gangs of New York, There Will Be Blood) is a man out of time in more than one sense of the word. He’s an ailing hippy nursing a faulty heart as he idles away what time is left to him on a remote island which was once home to a hippy commune of which he and his 16-year-old daughter, Rose (Camilla Belle – 10,000BC), are the last remaining members. They lead an insular existence, and seem unnaturally close (like an inquisitive lover, he asks his daughter, “What are you thinking about,” in an early scene), and their only regular contact with the outside world is through the visits of a horticulturalist from the mainland. Jack is in the fortunate position of being able to live off the wealth amassed by his deceased father, but such economic luxury has detached him even further from the realities of life. He fires his shotgun over the heads of workers building new houses on another part of the island, ostensibly in protest at the development’s encroachment on the island’s wetlands, but he’s really just an old hippy impotently shaking his fist at the inevitable with weary resignation.
As cocooned as he might be from the realities of life, Jack is wise enough to realise that Rose will need caring for when he dies. And so he makes the calamitous decision to ask his girlfriend, Kathleen (Catherine Keener – Captain Phillips), to move in with her two teenaged sons, the overweight Rodney (Ryan MacDonald – The Exorcism of Emily Rose) who never removes his jacket and wants to be a women’s hairdresser, and bad boy Thaddius (Paul Dano – There Will Be Blood, Prisoners) who takes more than a brotherly interest in his new sister. Quite why Jack believed this unannounced insertion of a ready-made family into his and Roses’s previously untroubled lives is something of a mystery, and it’s not long before he begins to regret his decision.
It’s debatable whether The Ballad of Jack and Rose is the kind of film – both in terms of subject matter and quality – that Daniel Day-Lewis would have agreed to make had it not been written and directed by Rebecca Miller, who is not only the daughter of the celebrated American playwright Arthur Miller, but the wife of Mr Day-Lewis. He’s notoriously picky about the roles he takes on, largely because of the intense and lengthy preparation and research he undertakes for any part he agrees to play. The trivia section at IMDb claims that he spent as much time away from his wife as he possibly could to prepare for the role of Jack in this film, which is a little curious (many people would consider time away from the wife a holiday but, hey, Day-Lewis works to a different agenda to the rest of us). As is so often the case, he’s the best thing about the film, purring his lines in a soft Scottish brogue, a roll-up never far from his lips, an earring in his left ear and a tatty hat pulled low on his head. He’s supported by a decent independent-movie grade cast who work hard to match the quality of Day-Lewis’s performance. But while there’s nothing about them worth faulting, they are still eclipsed by Day-Lewis’s immense talent.
The story in the movie is presumably intended as a metaphor for the terminal decline of the hippy ideology of the late 1960s and early ‘70s. And while there’s no doubting the heartfelt sincerity of Miller’s message, embodying the death throes of a movement in the body of one frail man is the kind of exercise that would test even the most talented of writers. The vast majority of those hippies traded their ideals for a company car and a nice semi-detached a long time ago, not because of any necessary flaw in their ideology, but because they were only ever really playing the part, and holding back the weight of adult responsibility as long as they possibly could. Miller acknowledges this in the way that Jack, while still living the hippy ideal, isn’t above whipping out his cheque book to get what he wants. For Miller to adhere to Jack’s metaphorical role within the narrative, he has to be this flawed, hypocritical and isolated character, which means he isn’t really going to be particularly likable. As it is, only Day-Lewis’s way of playing him prevents Jack from being a complete arse, and if it wasn’t for his presence, The Ballad of Jack and Rose would have fallen into completely obscurity by now, instead of merely teetering on the brink.
(Reviewed 31st January 2016)