TUCSON, Ariz. — "The Lost Daughter" is an intense, slow burn that enthuses the "less is more" mentality. With plot and dialogue at a minimum, the film is more about insinuation and expression.
It takes patience and focus to reap the film's rewards, but those who stick with it could find themselves enraptured in its powerful ebb and flow. The film opens on Netflix Friday.
Olivia Colman plays Leda, an author who is vacationing solo at a Greek resort. She starts noticing Nina (Dakota Johnson), a young mother of two, who is struggling with motherhood responsibilities and relationship problems. What starts off as idle curiosity rapidly develops into intense interest, and eventually begins to border on obsession.
As she fixates on Nina, Leda melts into her own past, which still lives with her in the moment. Tormented by her life choices and psychological pain, she mourns her lost youth and failed opportunities. The ways she reacts to current situations are shaded by her scars.
The movie is a showpiece for its stellar cast. Colman powers the film with her performance, painting a portrait of a woman burning with regret and battered by decades of emotional tumult. Dakota Johnson explores her characters fiery, impulsive personality, and Ed Harris and Peter Sarsgaard make stark impressions in small supporting roles.
The film has heavy echoes of "Nomadland." Confident in her storytelling ability in her first time behind the camera, writer/director Maggie Gyllenhaal spins an elegant and stirring drama that thrives on intimate shot selection and subtle undercurrents of bubbling ferocity.
It must have been a brutal choice for Gyllenhall to hand such a juicy part over to Colman when the writer/director herself seemed so natural for the role, but the choice pays off. Gyllenhaal and Colman work together to achieve a performance neither likely could have gotten to on their own.
"The Lost Daughter" may send some viewers away befuddled and bitter, but that's the nature of such a challenging piece of work. The film is imperfect and obstinate, and in that is just what makes it so effective as high art. Gyllenhal is a filmmaking voice to watch.
RATING: 3 stars out of 4.
This story was originally published by Phil Villarreal on Scripps station KGUN in Tucson, Arizona.