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The Girl

2013 | 95 min | R | 1.85:1

The Girl


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Movie appeal


Theatrical release date

 08 March, 2013

Country of origin

 United States



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The Girl


The Girl Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, March 8, 2013

It’s been difficult to get a proper read of Abbie Cornish as an actress. She’s done some interesting work in pictures such as “W.E.” and “Limitless,” but she’s not a performer who commands the screen, preferring coolness of character and deep introspection. Often, this can read as simple disinterest. “The Girl” provides Cornish with a leading role of substantial weight and patience. In fact, the entire movie hinges on her body language, with the small-scale drama uninterested in outbursts of melodrama, instead holding to subtleties of thought and urgency to generate essential tension. Cornish is marvelous in “The Girl,” finally proving herself to be a formidable actress after years spent struggling to be noticed.

Trying to collect herself after losing custody of her baby boy, Ashley (Abbie Cornish) is having a difficult time with employment and sobriety, exhausting hope for a better life as her future grows dim. Popping back into her life is father Tommy (Will Patton), an absentee parent who hopes to win back his daughter’s attention with a trip to Mexico for drinks and conversation. After their return to Texas, Ashley discovers Tommy has used the excursion to help sneak Mexicans into America, paid off handsomely for his work. Desperate for money, Ashley seeks out the same arrangement, finding a border river that’s deceptively easy to cross. Gathering a group of Mexicans for travel, Ashley watches the plan crumble as the current wipes out most of the party, leaving behind Rosa (Martiza Santiago Hernandez), a young girl who can’t find her mother. Unable to leave Rosa behind, Ashley takes responsibility for the child, returning to Mexico to find her parent, only to be confronted with her own issues of dependability and separation that prevent her from giving up on kid.

Writer/director David Riker (who hasn’t made a picture since 1998’s “La Ciudad”) offers a concentration on character that keeps “The Girl” compelling. In Ashley, we spy a woman who’s defeated, unable to accept her role as an outsider to her own child in foster care, trying to work the system with a halfhearted effort of personal responsibility. She’s depressed and alone, barely keeping up appearances with social workers and court dates, yet her need to retrieve her boy burns bright, stymied only by a frustrating system. Ashley is a rounded personality who’s somewhat contemptible and profoundly understood. She’s lost interest in life long ago, trying to work the daily grind for the good of her boy, yet unable to step out from under poverty’s crushing weight. Riker’s script sympathizes but doesn’t coddle the character, pushing her through an experience that tests her capacity for love and security. Ashley is never anglicized, she’s kept raw and borderline untrustworthy, with the viewer initially unsure if she’s capable of dumping Rosa on the side of the road, or planning to keep the child for herself.

Thankfully, “The Child” isn’t a tale of custody, following Rosa and Ashley as they travel throughout Mexico to locate the girl’s mother, feared to be one of the many victims of the border river’s might. While Ashley is initially invested in Rosa’s plight due to her negligent command of waterway depth (the group questions why the “coyote” doesn’t have inner tubes for aquatic support), she’s soon drawn to the child as a companion, reminding her of the life she once had with her own son. Young Hernandez is a confident performer, but it’s Cornish’s movie, selling the developing bond between the characters with a sharp screen presence that generously articulates the unspoken emotions of the story, portraying a thawing soul without hysterics. Cornish keeps butch and pleasingly raw-nerve, but she’s terrifically vulnerable in minor moments, helping the viewer to understand Ashley’s intentions for Rosa as the film progresses and options run out for the pair.

Riker shows an appreciation for locations and an understanding of poverty, breathing life into “The Girl” that helps to ground the picture in a sense of reality, watching the churn of contemplation and the pressure of accountability instead of serving up artificial antics meant to amplify any saccharine intentions. It’s a spare film, but deeply felt and convincing, while bringing Cornish into a whole new light as an actress.

Starring: Abbie Cornish, Will Patton, Maritza Santiago Hernandez
Director: David Riker

» See full cast & crew

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