Award-winning director and daughter of famous playwright Arthur Miller, Rebecca Miller (“Angela” and “Personal Velocity”), delivers her third feature, “The Ballad of Jack and Rose.”
It is 1987 and Jack Slavin (Daniel Day-Lewis) lives with his daughter, Rose (Camilla Belle), on a remote island off the East Coast. The island was at one time a commune and, since its breakup, Jack has lived there, sheltering his daughter from the outside world. He is an environmentalist, does not believe in television and protests the idea of building a development on what he believes to be wetlands.
Jack has a weak heart and his health is deteriorating. He invites his girlfriend from the mainland, Kathleen (Catherine Keener), and her two sons (Paul Dano and Ryan McDonald) to live with him and Rose. Rose quickly becomes jealous and her mood turns from innocent to ugly. It is clear from the start of the film that something is off in the relationship between Jack and Rose, yet the depth of the situation becomes more apparent as the film progresses.
Miller uses many contemporary film styles in her direction of “The Ballad of Jack and Rose.” Time lapse photography of a beach scene is particularly notable as are the frequent jump cuts. With her skilled approach to filmmaking, Miller is able to highlight the beauty of the island without abandoning the popular elements of recent cinema. Miller wrote the screenplay for the film, in which she creates an uncanny balance between humor and sorrow.
Miller also has a knack for creating moments of extreme intensity. The film’s soundtrack is well-chosen, including songs by singer/songwriter and cultural icon Bob Dylan, as well as two different, yet equally appropriate, versions of the song “I Put a Spell on You.” The combination of sounds and visuals come together flawlessly.
Day-Lewis, who is married to Miller, gives an inspired performance as Jack. The personal relationship between Day-Lewis and Miller likely factored into his decision to take on the role of Jack (he is traditionally very selective in his choice of roles), but it is clear by his dedicated performance that he believes in the film. Although his character is emaciated physically, his presence in the movie is overwhelming and crucial to the film’s success.
Jena Malone gives a noteworthy performance as Red Berry and Beau Bridges is also very good as Marty Rance, the man looking to expand development on the island. McDonald, who plays one of Kathleen’s sons, is a pleasant surprise. He is often the bearer of comic relief and one of the characters for whom the audience feels the most compassion.
“The Ballad of Jack and Rose” is a highly ambitious film. There are many storylines in the movie, some of which become apparent only at the end. It is a film that challenges the audience. While the film does not quite reach all of the goals it sets for itself, it should be commended for a valiant effort. “The Ballad of Jack and Rose” is inspiring and unique, picturesque in its appearance and original in its execution.