The latest feature from director Rebecca Miller (daughter of playwright Arthur) stars Miller's husband, Daniel Day-Lewis, as Jack, the remaining member of a commune on an island just off the East coast. Jack lives with his teenage daughter, Rose (Camilla Belle) and the two work their land, growing their food and trying to live simply in a way that is environmentally sound.
Jack has lived his entire life his own way, by his ideals. So when developers start slowly taking up the nearby land, Jack becomes deeply upset, starting a battle of sorts between himself and a land developer (Beau Bridges). Jack also has to deal with a heart condition that continues to make him sicker, worrying himself and sending his daughter into a deep depression. Trying to come up with a way for his daughter to be taken care of, he invites his girlfriend (Catherine Keener, who looks good with reddish/blonde hair) and her two rather troubled sons to live with them.
Rose doesn't take well to the change in situation, and uses whatever means she can think of to try and change things back to the way they were. Oddly (one of a few plot points in the film that isn't believable), she'd never even been told of Kathleen, and the first time that she finds out about her is the time that Kathleen and her sons are moving in. This results in her rebelling, in ways that start off harmless and escalate into being dangerous.
Miller's film really goes off in directions that take away from the potentially fascinating core story of two people living in a commune while the modern era is knocking at their door. As for the movie itself, I never really felt that the relationship between the Keener and Day-Lewis characters worked, and some of Miller's symbolism is almost laughably heavy-handed at times. Sticking with the simple story of people trying to survive simply would have worked; instead, we get pieces of that amdist a largely messy and somewhat cliched drama.
I also never quite got a read on Day-Lewis's character, who uses threats and force against the development surrounding his land instead of the peaceful forms of protest that this character would probably more likely do in this sort of a situation. We lose even more sympathy for the character for the rather thoughtless situation that he's put his daughter into.
Despite a lackluster screenplay from Miller, the cast here is absolutely first-rate, managing to almost make up for some of the script's faults. Despite paying a character who I felt was never entirely well-defined, Day-Lewis brings his usual strong presence to the role, and makes Jack a compelling character. Camilla Belle also is largely wonderful as a teenager trying to cope with multiple difficult situations in her life. Keener isn't always entirely believable as Jack's girlfriend, but she puts in a fine effort, nonetheless. Beau Bridges is also quite good as the land developer who isn't presented just as the one-dimensional "villian" of the piece. Also providing fine supporting efforts are Jena Malone and Jason Lee. On the technical side of things, cinematographer Ellen Kuras provides beautiful imagery and there are a handful of Dylan tunes on the soundtrack.
There's a really wonderful little tale buried in here somewhere under the drama, but despite liking the performances, I was never entirely involved in Miller's tale.
VIDEO: "Ballad of Jack and Rose" is presented by MGM in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. This excellent transfer does a wonderful job showing off some of the film's occasionally gorgeous cinematography, as images appear crisp, bright and very well-defined throughout. Small object detail is often visible, even.
The picture does show a small amount of shimmer in a few scenes, but asid from that, no edge enhancement was seen, nor was any pixelation spotted. The print appeared to be in top shape, with no specks, marks or other faults. Colors looked rich and vibrant, with great saturation and no concerns.
SOUND: The film is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1, but this is a largely dialogue-driven effort, with nearly all of the audio understandably rooted in the front speakers. Audio quality was superb, with clear, natural-sounding dialogue and music.
EXTRAS: Trailers for "Ballad of Jack and Rose" and other MGM titles.
Final Thoughts: I liked the core story of a man and his daughter living off their land in an environmentally caring way. However, the drama layered on top of that often seemed heavy-handed, rather cliched and sometimes not believable. Great performances from a first-rate cast do go a ways towards saving the picture, but it doesn't quite happen. A light rental recommendation for those interested in the cast.