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TIFF 2022 Review: Prisoner’s Daughter – “A pretty straightforward family drama”

Courtesy of TIFF

Not having heard from her father, Max (Brian Cox) for over a decade, Maxine (Kate Beckinsale) is surprised, and not particularly happy, to receive a phone call from him.  Mostly because he’s calling from his latest stint in prison.  He has his reasons for communicating now – he is terminally ill, with stage 4 pancreatic cancer, given months to live.  The prison warden will allow him to be released on compassionate grounds, but only if Maxine takes him in on house arrest. 

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Maxine also isn’t in the best of spots.  She’s made some questionable decisions herself, including a past relationship with addict Tyler (Tyson Ritter) who is forcing himself back into the life of both her and their son Ezra (Christopher Convery).  She’s working two jobs to try and make ends meet and still needs to stretch out Ezra’s anti-seizure medication and their food supplies.  So Maxine makes her father a deal – he can stay at her house, paying for rent and his own provisions, but he cannot reveal his true relationship to Ezra, and he can’t bring any of his past life home.  

The four walls of that home contain painful memories, including the death of Maxine’s mother, and it’s clear early on in Prisoner’s Daughter that there is a lot of hurt in this family.  Both Brian Cox, most recently known for his role in Succession, and Kate Beckinsale do their best with what they are given, though Cox seems to outperform his screen partner here.  Despite his history, Cox injects a healthy dose of humanity to Max, allowing for some much-needed empathy which does follow into the final act, when things devolve somewhat.

For the first two-thirds of the film, writer Mark Bacci creates a pretty straightforward family drama, one filled with ideas of reconciliation and forgiveness.  While it lacks a certain emotional depth, it’s engaging and we appreciate the characters’ journeys towards understanding, if not love itself.  Yet, in that third act things take a turn when Max seems to just forget about all that, throws up his hands (literally) and goes back to his old ways where he would beat people up as an enforcer.  It undermines everything they’ve worked towards as a family, and everyone just seems to be okay with that.  

Director Catherine Hardwicke, probably best known for her work on 2008’s Twilight, might have had a good opportunity here to return to the raw, gritty type of filmmaking that launched her career with her feature debut Thirteen.  But, there’s just not much to make Prisoner’s Daughter particularly gripping by its end.  Any investment in this family seems to vanish by the film’s end.  Besides from a really nice appearance by Ernie Hudson, who plays a boxing coach and is always a pleasure on screen, there is nothing overly memorable here.  The first two acts of this film, and the goodwill those minutes create, seem shamefully wasted.  Prisoner’s Daughter ends up being a lacklustre family drama that’s about as subtle as being hit with…well Max’s baseball bat.  

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