***1/2 out of five)
Simon Stone’s adaptation of his stage adaptation of Ibsen’s The Wild Duck tosses out the metaphorical title and tells us straight who this story is about. She’s played by Odessa Young, brilliantly, and a huge part of the enjoyment of this film is watching a star being born in front of your eyes.
Young has previously appeared in Looking for Grace, and based on that and her performance here, I can safely predict her dance card will be full for many years, and will include waltzes with Hollywood. She’s astonishingly present as Hedwig (Ibsen eh!), the daughter of logger Oliver (Ewen Leslie), who re-unites with his old mate Christian (Paul Schneider) to nobody’s benefit.
The many lives thrown off-kilter by Christian’s return to Oz from the US include characters played by Geoffrey Rush, Sam Neill, Miranda Otto and Anna Torv. They’re all solid, but it’s Young, Leslie and Schneider’s show, and they’re all excellent. Leslie, playing against his urbane type, is stunning, making a bunch of really tricky character maneuvers seem effortless. And Schneider, having experience with a couple of Antipodean films and filmmakers (he was in Jane Campion’s Bright Star and Andrew Dominik’s The Assassination of Jess James by the Coward Robert Ford) is believable as an Americanised Aussie – not a natural role for anyone.
It’s really inspiring that in a film with so many brilliant old-timers, it’s the young ones who impress, and the youngest the most. Stone is a young man making his feature debut, and he certainly breathes youthful energy into an old story, while also giving the whole thing a very Euro feel. It’s beautifully shot, too. Perhaps the least interesting thing about it is the actual story, which makes sense: I’d see this film over a stage production of Ibsen any day.