Ned Kendall (Ben Mendelsohn), a middle-aged failed author, returns to his birthplace to say farewell to his terminally ill cantankerous father who has only a matter of weeks left to live. Located in the remote Australian outback with little else to do, Ned wiles away the time engaging in dispassionate love-making with his borderline adolescent girlfriend Toni and experiencing vivid hallucinations harking back to his incestuous relationship with twin sister Kate (Sophie Lowe) who subsequently died in uncertain circumstances. Confronted with his former life, Ned soon discovers that it’s not so easy to abandon who you once were or to escape the consequences of decisions you unwisely made.
Rachel Ward directs with skill and precision, wonderfully capturing the eerie atmosphere of the surrounding geography of weathered barren landscapes. It’s the kind of place the mind can’t help but wander. Unfortunately, the impact of Ned’s memories, evoked through flashbacks, neither shock or serve to be particularly satisfying revelations. Ned’s fruitless career is tied up with the lack of success in his personal relationships, summed up neatly by his decrepit father as an ongoing “c**t problem” referring to women’s tendency to grow cold towards him. Indeed, Ned’s sex life is frequently scrutinised, further exacerbated when Toni berates him for f***ing her like a porn star instead of his girlfriend. Discovering the root cause of Ned’s dysfunction is due to several liasons with his sibling and the resulting turmoil elicits little more than a shrug from the audience who have little reason to care.
In spite of its potentially incendiary subject matter, Beautiful Kate is an oddly tepid film, its initially promising surface tension rarely permeating the plot to produce anything deeply significant. Whilst the performances are good and the direction superb, all involved are ultimately let down by a lacklustre script which relies on incest’s taboo status to fill in the gaps of interest and substance that are crucially lacking in the film’s fabric.