PLOT: A woman seeks revenge against the man who kidnapped her mother.
REVIEW: I knew next to nothing of The Marsh King’s Daughter when going into it except for the cast. Ben Mendelsohn, Daisy Ridley, and Garrett Hedlund are some of my favorite actors, so really, that’s all the film needed to sell me on it. But what followed was a gripping character piece with a tremendous performance at its center. While there are some pacing issues and a familiar story, the performances and cinematography manage to carry the film. This takes what could have been a standard tale of kidnapping and puts it through an interesting filter. And I think a lot of that concerns its strong introduction.
Helena is established as a strong and capable lead right from the onset. The way she hunts and is constantly trying to learn from her father does so much to establish the story with very little extra exposition. It’s clear they’ve been doing this for quite some time. Knowing nothing about the story going into this, I was actually enjoying this little father-and-daughter bonding. They seemed very close. But when the shift happens, it comes with such a shock that I wish all audiences could experience it with such fresh eyes. Because without this moment, I wonder how much that would trickle down to the rest of the story. If anything, the marketing seems to work against the film.
As is, The Marsh King’s Daughter is more of a character drama than anything. Daisy Ridley gives one of the best performances of her career as the grown-up Helena and really gets a chance to shine. She’s the primary focus, though we do get glimpses of her childhood. She does a great job of playing someone who picks up the pieces of her broken world, only for her old life to return in a mean way.
This is such a drastically different role for Brooklynn Prince, who first got attention from The Florida Project. She’s great as Young Helena, and while purposely stoic, she proves how diverse she can be. I’d be lying if I said Garrett Hedlund’s role amounts to much of anything. He’s in and out so quickly that it couldn’t have been more than a few days on set. Similarly, Ben Mendelsohn feels vastly underutilized. Even as the second lead, I feel like I wasn’t treated to any phenomenal performance that we usually get from him. The Marsh King is a very by-the-books character, so there’s little intrigue there. He protects his family and is delusional in doing so. If anything, the lack of grey in his character makes him less interesting.
There are some good, incredible landscape shots and a mastery of the camera. There’s an expertise here that really helps out the slow pace. Whether it’s tracking a car along the road as it hits another vehicle or a push-in from landscapes to an office, everything feels a step above. The opening features this beautiful shot that starts underwater, only to breach the surface to reveal a character. There’s such life to every shot, even those that would be simple in another production. I can’t say enough good things about the cinematography. Director of Photography Alwin H. Küchler deserves massive kudos.
The Marsh King’s Daughter‘s biggest enemy is its pacing. While I was on board for the more plodding approach, it still suffered from inaction. The path the story will take feels pretty obvious once it gets into Act Two, but it really takes its time getting there. Jacob also suffers a little bit too much from being too much on top of things. He seems to simultaneously be able to evade law enforcement while also hunting down his daughter, who has fallen off the face of the earth. There’s plenty of suspension of disbelief that has to go on with Jacob. Ultimately, I was won over by the opening act and Daisy Ridley’s phenomenal performance. The film’s pacing will cause some frustration, but I wanted to see Helena get revenge. And sometimes, something as simple as that is more than enough to keep a story going.
THE MARSH KING’S DAUGHTER IS IN THEATERS ON NOVEMBER 3RD, 2023.
Originally published at https://www.joblo.com/the-marsh-kings-daughter-review/