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Sunday, September 22, 2013

"Prisoners" 2013 Fine Performances, Evocative Direction, Screwball Script

"Prisoners" 2013 Fine Performances, Evocative Direction, Screwball Script

I wanted to see "Prisoners" after I saw the trailer. Alas, the trailer contains all the best parts of the movie. Suburban parents celebrating Thanksgiving slowly come to realize that their two daughters are missing. The trailer featured quiet, dark scenes of increasing menace and despair, shot in realistic, autumnal, suburban settings. The trailer promised big, big stars: Hugh Jackman and Maria Bello as one set of parents and Viola Davis and Terence Howard as the other, Jake Gyllenhaal as the police detective, Paul Dano as the suspect and Melissa Leo as the suspect's adoptive parent. The trailer promised an intelligent thriller that would interrogate how far an ethical person could go in attempting to rescue his daughter from an abductor. The trailer also seemed to suggest an examination of how law enforcement responds, for better or worse, in child abduction cases.

The first twenty minutes of "Prisoners" delivered what I'd hoped for based on the trailer, but I was hyper-aware that I was watching scene after scene I'd already seen in the trailer.

Around the time that an unlikely body was found in an unlikely spot, and a fist met a face several times more than was necessary to make any point, but certainly enough times to satisfy a filmgoer's sick, sadistic bloodlust, the movie went off the rails for me, abandoned all its seriousness and intelligence, and became sensational gore and commercial pap. I was so let down I wanted to leave the theater, but I stayed because I'd roped two friends into seeing this with me.

"Prisoners" is a whodunit so there's a limit to what I can say without revealing any spoilers. I can say this. Jake Gyllenhaal powerfully performs a dedicated police detective. Hugh Jackman exercises his neck veins a lot, and his American accent is wobbly but okay. Terence Howard, Viola Davis, and Maria Bello are given criminally little to do. Viola Davis has one of the most interesting scenes in the movie. This scene is only a minute or two long and it is not developed at all. That is a shame because the scene is the moral crux of the film. And the film does nothing with it; the filmmakers went with implausible sensationalism and sadism rather than substance. Paul Dano, as the suspect, and Melissa Leo, as his adoptive mother, both give powerhouse performances in very challenging roles.

Denis Villeneuve's direction is flawless. He avoids explosive stunts and theatrics with his camera. His moves are slow and quiet, even while filming ugly violence. I'd like to see his work on a better script.

There are many attempts to make the movie deeper than it is. There are many scenes initially shot through dirty glass. "Through a glass darkly" is a line from the Bible. Ooo big symbolism. Wow. There are many crosses, including one hanging from the rearview mirror in Keller – Hugh Jackman's – truck. Wow. Heavy. I just may think something … no, I'd rather watch snakes. Oh, yes. There are snakes. Some understand Satan as taking snake form in Genesis. Heavy. Profound! Yeah, not really. Just bizarrely implausible. There are strange character names. Hugh Jackman's first name is "Keller" which brings to mind the blind and deaf Helen Keller, or maybe the word "Killer." Jake Gyllenhaal is Detective Loki. Loki is the trickster God of Norse mythology. This is all pretty high school.

There are two scenes and one character treatment in this film that I found completely implausible. The two scenes are essential to the plot. I can't describe these two scenes but I can say that one is utterly implausible because of surveillance. The action of the film takes place within hours and days of a child abduction. Not only police, but also media and neighbors would be keeping an eagle eye on all suspects. Another scene is implausible because it demands that we forget everything we've been told about a key character. One character treatment is unbelievable to me because a very unlikely character is depicted as being as heroic, in his way, as John McCain. Not plausible. I also found the final resolution of the crime to be something that would only occur in a writer's imagination, and the ending to be pointlessly cute.

Again, the opening scenes of the dawning awareness that a child has been abducted are powerful, but the film totally lost me with its comic book sensationalism, sadism, and – I have to say it – stupidity.

Hugh Jackman in "Australia." Just because. 

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