Friday, January 24, 2014

Prisoners. 2013

Before this thriller was released there was some word of mouth about how good it was, and how it would be a leading contender for awards at the end of the year, Filmcomment Magazine even picked it as one of the essential films of the year along with such critical darlings as “Blue Jasmine’, “12 Years a Slave”, “Gravity” and “Inside Llewyn Davis” and gave it a full page review in their special year end supplement. So what happened? Disappearing from view rather quickly, the film did not do well at the box office or with the awards although it has received an Oscar nomination for its beautiful cinematography. Simply put it is an overlong attention grabbing somewhat engrossing creepy thriller that recalls “Silence Of The Lambs”, “Mystic River”, “Seven” and “Zodiac” and shows us how unexpected violence can quickly change lives which is not a very original or new idea. On Thanksgiving two families who live near each other in a neat but dreary suburban neighborhood in Pennsylvania are celebrating the holiday. One family is white and is headed by a tough, tense survivalist played by Hugh Jackman, the other family is African American with a more relaxed laid back husband and wife played by the very good Terrence Howard and the equally good Viola Davis. It seemed to me that as nice as this racial co-existence was that it was a far-fetched match up. This plot ploy of a conservative survivalist being close friends with an African American family just didn’t ring true for me and this plot device will be played hard and false later in the film when sides in a violent and traumatic situation are taken. Soon the story takes a bad turn when the young daughters of the two families go out to play and are not seen again. Kidnapped of course, and we are led to believe by someone in a camper that was parked outside one of the neat and tidy homes that line the dull street. The sky and landscape is late Fall gray and void of much color, and indeed the film will remain without much color and shading especially when it comes to the characters for the rest of its long running time. The two families are frantic, and the mom, the wife of Jackman played by Maria Bello starts to fall apart in front of us, taking pills and sleeping her days away and Hugh begins to act crazy and harsh. The police led by Jake Gyllenhaal who appears to be the only detective working the case is secretive and alone we know nothing about him but he becomes obsessed with the case as detectives in this kind of thriller usually do. They soon arrest a suspect, a slow witted young man played by Paul Dano who has the IQ of a ten year old and who they have to release back into his aunt’s custody played by Melissa Leo because they are lacking any proof that he did the crime. Jackman who keeps losing his American accent also starts losing his mind over this release and is soon stalking and plotting to take matters into his own large hands. Most of the film is unpleasant, violent and unsettling but it does have suspense, twists and is compelling if you like or can stand this sort of film. The director Denis Villeneuve is good with actors and details and fills the screen with realistic interiors and touches of behavior that sometimes ring true, but are generally paper thin as is the plot with its many holes that lets the light shine through and it comes free of charge with a rushed and improbable ending.


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