With an intense, talented and celebrated father like Arthur Miller, it's easy to draw parallels with writer/director Rebecca Miller's own paternal bond and the mythologised one in her engrossing but patchy screenplay. But whatever her relationship with Pa, Miller certainly shares Dad's preoccupation with the disappointment and sorrow suffered when fierce idealism clashes with reality. And she can certainly write complex, fascinating characters.
Like Death Of A Salesman's Willie Loman, Jack is a blinkered, uncompromising zealot with a romanticised view of his child and lifestyle, who butts heads with anyone representing reality. A mass of contradictions, he ennobles himself by taking pot-shots at builders working on encroaching housing projects, but thinks nothing of buying the affections of a woman via a cheque from his considerable trust fund. He expects sensitivity towards the ecology yet shows little for his daughter - isolating her from everything but him. And in the film's most bittersweet scene, he confronts a fat-cat housing developer (Beau Bridges) only to discover a shared humanity.
Miller handles the characterisation well and is aided by faultless casting (her real-life hubby Day-Lewis is as excellent as ever), but she flounders with trite metaphors, predictable plot devices (dramatically convenient ill health) and an invasively 'profound' soundtrack; ultimately leaving the film feeling more pretentious than poignant. The incestuous aspect of Jack and Rose's relationship also seems unnecessary in a piece that could have explored familial jealousy, retribution and devotion without it.
Quibbles aside, there's plenty to enjoy in the film's dreamy imagery and the young cast commendably hold their own against Day-Lewis' raging charisma. Newcomer Belle is the obvious star, but Ryan McDonald charms and Jena Malone blazes through her small role as a free-spirit runaway.