Film Review: The Daughter (Australia, 2016)

The Daughter brings together an incredible Australian cast with Director and Writer Simon Stone, who penned the Belvoir adaptation and marks his screen debut debut here, as did Cowell with Guthrie. The 1884 Norwegian play has been transformed here into an Australian family drama (though the duck, naturally, remains present), set on the NSW South Coast, focusing on a family and a town who face changes and revelations after one of their main job sources – a timber company run by Walter (Geoffery Rush) and his family for over a century – is forced to close, at the same time as Rush is set to remarry, bringing his American son Christian (Paul Schneider) back from America and setting off a series of events that will bring to light the film’s purposeful title.

In an approach similar to another brilliant and at times gut wrenching drama Somersault (2004), some of the film’s most intense and dramatic sequences are broken up by shots of the area’s stunning scenery. In the former’s case, we enjoyed Jindabyne, while here we are taken about five hours South of Sydney, with shots of fog cascading over mountains and the tall trees – once the lifeblood of the community – as they tower into the sky. Andrew Commiss’ cinematography really is stunning, from these beautiful landscapes to the careful framing and lighting of every shot – no detail left unconsidered, the focus of his lense proving a character in itself, stationary

The performances are, as one would expect from the cast, stellar, and director/writer Stone has led the accomplished team well, making it a landmark debut by any means. Ewan Leslie commands the film as Oliver (the father), giving one of the best performances of his career, and Sam Niell provides some of the more touching scenes as the soft spoken Henry – the family patriarch with a bit of a dark past. Charlotte (Miranda Otto) and the daughter, Hedvig (Odessa Young), both deliver stand out performances in the film, as their world shatters around them – in part to their own devices (for one of the two, at least).

Stone’s script does get a bit over dramatic at times – something the cast handle well (it walks a thin tightrope but never gets unbearably overdramatic) – but his interweaving of storylines, bringing us through past and present, is masterful. Editing led by Veronika Jenet and The Gingerbread Men helped lead a consistent tone, focusing on the more fragile moments Conmiss captured, rather than the dialogue – the characters voice sitting over the top of a static moment, a technique used throughout and to great effect. Meanwhile, Mark Bradshaw’s striking but often minimalist score heralds back to similar work he did on Top of the Lake and holds the film together beautifully.

The Daughter is a stunning debut; a powerful film armed with spectacular cinematography, a beautiful score and incredible performances. Like many great Australian films before it, it’s a drama in every sense of the word, becoming difficult to watch as the film progresses. A particular mention has to be payed to Paul Schneider, who brings an unexpected intensity as the film comes to its dramatic conclusion. They definitely want you to “feel the emotion”, and they achieve this with flying colours. I don’t know what it says about Australian cinema that so many of our great films are an emotional affair, and only time will tell if this film is considered a great among them, but it will certainly be one of the must see Australian films of 2015.

Review Score: FOUR AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Review originally written as part of last year’s Sydney Film Festival coverage.