Friday, 27 September 2013

Prisoners (15)

Normally, as I watch a film, the intro to the review will just sneak into my head. Could be something that happens on the way to the film, could be directly relevant to the plot...

Either way, something will suggest itself by the time I get home.

Not with Prisoners. Oh no.

Now, it could have been the stupidly-long running time, it could have been the amount of exasperated head shaking that was going on, it could even have been bumping into one of my oldest friends as I came out of the cinema - but whatever it was, nothing was coming.

And I'm still stumped now.

I had been looking forward to Prisoners - I mean really excited. It looked dark and gritty, it looked tense and exciting, but then that's the joy of a three-minute trailer.

Sadly, stretched out to nigh on three hours what you get is a turgid examination of grief and faith, dressed up as a thriller about two little girls who get kidnapped.

And it should be thrilling. It's two children taken from outside their house. It should be a tense thrill ride, keeping you guessing at every twist and turn.

And it is tense. In the same way watching an iceberg approach is tense. You know it's going to hit you at some point, the question is when. Yes, you're going to get bored waiting, but still - it's got to hit you at some point, right?

Or not.

Essentially, the problem with Prisoners is the pacing. It never breaks out of a casual saunter. Even the one brief speeding car chase fails to thrill, largely because by then you've lost the will to live. And this is nothing short of criminal.

Because, if an editor who knew what he/she was doing had got hold of this, then the strong central performances of Jake Gyllenhaal (as the cop) and Hugh Jackman (as the bereft father) would have shone.

Instead, they are given so much room to breathe they actually get lost. Stifled. To the point you actually stop caring what happens.

The problem is two-fold. The direction (care of Denis Villeneuve) is hugely self-indulgent. Denis has clearly decided from the off how the film should look, and while the bleak, stark visual tone is consistent throughout, he's forgotten about how to actually make a film work.

The other guilty party is writer Aaron Guzikowski (whose only other credit is Contraband). In order to engage with our central characters, we need to know something about them. But there is so little meat on those particular bones that the audience is left to starve.

Fair play to Jackman and Gyllenhaal for putting in such good performances given how little they had to work with - but imagine what they could have done with a proper, well-rounded character.

And it's the same for the supporting cast. The other grief-stricken parents (played by Viola Davis, Terence Howard and Maria Bello) are so paper-thin as to make you wonder why they're there. Apart from plot devices, they seem to serve no purpose other than added dressing to a scene.

And, given the calibre of these stars, that's a huge waste.

Then we have the actual, well, let's be kind and call it plot.

To say it's laboured would be kind. To say it's misguided would be an understatement.

The time it takes to develop a lead, highlight the suspect and then deal with him makes you think this may have been shot in real-time. Never before has so much time been dedicated to potential red herrings. It's painful.

Then there's the twist. And it's a doozy. If you're still interested, you may possibly guess, but I wouldn't bet on it. My guess is it'll be met, as it was in the screening I was in, with an overwhelming feeling of indifference.

But, amazingly, that isn't the worst of it.

Somehow this film manages to have more to say about the use of torture as an interrogation tool than Zero Dark Thirty (turns out, it's not a good thing). It's trying to show how far one man will go to get to the truth, but that point is lost in all the blood, pummelling and hot water.

And just when you think you couldn't get any more annoyed, religion, faith and their use as an excuse (thinks carefully before giving too much away) for deeds being done are introduced.

And that's when I wanted to punch the screen.

To be honest, if I wasn't there to review the damn thing, I'd have given up after half an hour and walked out. If I was watching on TV I doubt I'd have lasted that long.

With some editing of both the script and the film footage, Prisoners could have been the taught thriller we all expected.

Instead we get a tedious look at events which, against all logic, are made tedious. The leads do their best, and they are in no way to blame for the mess they've ended up in, but when the final scene is greeted with voluble derision you know this is a film that has missed its mark by a country mile.

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