I absolutely love Nicole Kidman. I think she is one of the most talented actresses working today, and I respect that she constantly takes risks with her performances, never settling for the safe choice. Unfortunately, this review is not a Nicole Kidman fluff piece, it is about her new film STRANGERLAND. And as much as I wanted to like the film, it has been one of my least favorites so far at Sundance.
Because of an embarrassing incident with their daughter Lily (Maddison Brown), the Parker family has moved from a bigger Australian city to a small town in the outback. However, the move has only changed the family’s location; all of the family drama is still boiling under the surface. Matthew (Joseph Fiennes) is embarrassed by his daughter’s sexual behavior, basically to the point of resenting her. The more understanding figure Catherine (Kidman) tries to quell the tension, but this doesn’t work for long. One night, Lily and her brother Tommy leave the house in the middle of night. When they aren’t at school the next day, Catherine begins to worry. A “missing child” search begins, led by Detective David Rae (Hugo Weaving). However, the expansive Australian outback that surrounds the city makes the search pretty impossible. With their children missing, and Matthew less than helpful in the search, the already fragile relationship between husband and wife crumbles even further.
As she said in the Q&A following the film, Kidman was drawn to STRANGERLAND partly because she wanted challenge herself with a devastatingly emotional and at times uncomfortably sexual performance and partly because she liked that it was directed by a first-time female director, Kim Farrant. Farrant did a good job for her very first (non-documentary) feature film, and it was obvious she poured her heart and soul into the work. The film especially excelled when it shows the huge expanse of the Australian outback. However, the slow-burning, sometimes unclear mystery made STRANGERLAND hard to get through. Reveals and plot twists aren’t shocking, they’re just… there, and many times I was unclear about what themes and messages the script was trying to convey. For example, the idea of female sexuality was explored, but not properly fleshed out.
The film was also missing critical information about the characters. It’s okay to leave some things about a character’s background and motivations to the audience’s imagination, but this was a little too abstract. For example, I am still confused as to why Tommy left home and why his sister left him alone in the desert? Is she that much of a monster? Throughout the film, she just seemed like a girl exploring her sexuality.
Had it not been for the wonderful performances from the cast, STRANGERLAND would have been a lot less enjoyable. I respect the director’s effort, and I am excited to see her next project, but this one was a definite miss.
My Review: C-