Holding the Audience Captive in Prisoners

Prisoners

Anyone who sat through Quebecois director Denis Villeneuve’s well-crafted but morally repugnant Oscar-nominated film, Incendies, knows he’s a man who loves to play with the audience and turn the screws to the point of torture.  While going more mainstream with the kidnap thriller, Prisoners, he still finds way to tighten the ropes and hold an audience captive.  Red herrings, recurring visual motifs, carefully placed clues and masterful editing have become the director’s calling cards, and he stacks his deck in Prisoners with an A-list cast and sets the brooding atmosphere with Roger Deakins’ flawless photography shaded in blues and greys meant to mirror the moral ambiguities of this sordid tale.

Though it runs over two and a half hours, Prisoners is relentlessly compelling in a cold, calculated procedural kind of way.  Much of the film plays like the pilot episode of the next great TV crime thriller as it sets up the case of two missing girls and toggles itself between the families affected and the lead detective bent on finding the children.  Unfortunately it’s that same sensibility that leads Aaron Guzikowski’s disappointingly rote and too-tidy script awry.  We never really get to know the characters deeply as they are all composed of stock genre elements and would be better fleshed out in a long serial television format. Continue reading

Red State

I do not come in peace.

“People do strange things when they believe they’re entitled, but they do the strangest things when they just plain believe.”

As a man best know for his blue comedies and ear for hipster geek dialogue, nobody would’ve ever accused writer/director Kevin Smith of profundity.  Over the years Smith has been at his best when he’s fiercely independent (Clerks, Clerks II, Chasing Amy) or when he’s courting controversy (Dogma).  The rest of his cannon has been fairly forgettable.  Yet here with Red State, an independent and doggedly controversial film that has escaped mainstream release and instead premiered on-demand (after a few key one-off preview screening events), Smith has performed one of the strangest about-faces in modern film.  It’s a mish-mash of genres – part psychological thriller, part horror film, part satire – and though unnervingly uneven, by many measures its Smith’s most accomplished film.  And best of all – love it or hate it – it’s a film worth talking about. Continue reading

The Fighting Irish

We’ve been lured by urban settings before – places so vivid they become a character in and of themselves:  Dickensian London, James Joyce’s Dublin, Scorsese’s New York…and now, in recent years we’ve found a great attraction to Affleckted Boston.  Movies like The Departed, Gone Baby Gone and this year’s The Town have taken us there before.  Ben Affleck may have nothing to do with this latest, The Fighter, but he’s been the greatest purveyor of this white trash squalor, and it runs amuck in David O. Russell’s fact based tale surrounding Micky Ward’s struggle to rise above his roots in the Lowell subsection of Boston to become a champion boxer. Continue reading

To Queue or Not to Queue

As tumbleweeds blow through the dust bowls of our nation’s cineplexes — Sunshine CleaningThe Soloist…where are you? — March has become a great time to stack your Netflix queue and catch up on all of the films that slipped through the cracks the previous year.  From the colossal bombs (Blindness, Miracle at St. Anna) to the buzzed about but little seen indie character pieces (Frozen River, I’ve Loved You so Long) to the high-profile curiosities that just didn’t connect (Changeling), the question before us now is:  To Queue or Not to Queue? 

All five films, though vastly different in story, structure and execution, share concurrent themes of people pushed to extremes when faced with societal injustices.  Meanwhile four of the five are galvanized by commanding performances from females in lead roles, and three of those four depict mothers who will stop at nothing to protect their children. Continue reading