Movies: Beautiful Kate * * * *
Back in the early 80s, Rachel Ward was a stunningly handsome Hollywood actress whose credits included Against All Odds and The Thorn Birds.
Since the late 90s she's been quietly plying her trade as a writer/director with a series of acclaimed low-budget movies. Beautiful Kate is the first I've seen and, judging by this, she has a strong and distinctive film-making talent.
Set deep in the unforgiving wilds of the Australian Outback, Beautiful Kate stars Ben Mendelsohn as Ned, a not especially successful novelist who travels back to his boyhood home to visit his dying father.
He does so reluctantly, because he and Bruce (Bryan Brown) don't get on, and it's not long before father and son are at it hammer and tongs. Endeavouring to keep the peace is Ben's saintly younger sister Sally (Rachel Griffiths) and, to add to the family's problems, Ben has brought his latest squeeze, a rather vacuous blonde called Kate, along for the ride.
Amid the magnificent squalor of a dusty ranch, Bruce and Ben glower at each other for days before finally getting around to raking up their tragic mutual past.
The plot of Beautiful Kate is not especially complicated: Ward adapted it loosely from a Newton Thornburg novel. What's interesting and at times quite staggering about the film is the visual flair with which Ward tells her story.
There's a wonderful freedom and dreaminess to her camerawork, and her husband Bryan Brown delivers perhaps the performance of his life as a kind of King Lear of the Outback.