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Review: Prisoner’s Daughter – “One of the best films I’ve seen so far this year”

Prisoner’s Daughter

Violence.  A difficult and relevant topic.  Not just physical violence.  We’ve only really begun to understand in the last century the terrible psychological toll of bodily violence, and the emotional equivalents have barely been recognised by law.

Having said that anyone who has invested significant time in the martial arts knows it can also be incredibly empowering.  The controlled application and receipt of violence in this way often results in a calmer, kinder, and infinitely more confident person.

Violence is rarely less than drastically life-changing for good or ill.

This is the theme of The Prisoner’s Daughter a new film directed by Catherine Hardwicke (Thirteen, Twilight) and written by Mark Bacci, and I’m going to say from the outset that I loved it.

The film stars Brian Cox and Kate Beckinsale at the titular convict and his daughter, along with an excellent performance from relative newcomer Christopher Convery as Beckinsale’s son.  He’s previously appeared in Stranger Things and based on this performance is headed for great things.  It’s also fantastic to see Ernie Hudson again and he’s as solid as always in his role.

Let’s deal with negatives first.  This isn’t going to surprise many people.  We’ve seen plenty of  redemption arc movies before and some may find it too sentimental.  It shares a conclusion with a successful, well-reviewed movie from 2008, although while that movie produced a wry smile and a feeling of, “well played,” this felt both more real and far more emotionally affecting.

Some might call it ‘stagey’ I suppose, it’s certainly an actors movie, and brings to mind the kind of improv we used to do at college which inevitably boiled down to boys hating their dads.  You could also argue that Cox’s transformation from thug to almost saint-like is not well explained and perhaps trite, but much like the film I’m referring to above (no spoilers) the charisma of the central star just blows the doubts off the screen.

Cox is basically on a victory lap now, having dominated the last five years of television long after conquering Hollywood.  He is outstanding here, conveying more conflicting emotions in one gesture than many actors could manage with a soliloquy.  There are two contested roles that resonate with this actor: Hannibal Lecter (who he played before Anthony Hopkins, albeit with a differently spelled name in 1986’s Manhunter), and Churchill, who he portrayed in a film of the same name in 2017, the same year Gary Oldman won an Oscar for his version in The Darkest Hour.  In both cases, it was again the deeper psychological truth of those characters that – for me – meant that Cox’s performance was superior, vastly so in the latter.

When you have someone of that stature at the centre of your film, you naturally expect him to dominate.  But acting is reacting and there’s a sense of generosity in his performance that elevates everyone else.  Plus maybe Hardwicke’s directing style allows for greater improvisation – that certainly seems the case in a particularly raw exchange at the heart of the movie.

The actor who spends much of the time going toe to toe with Cox is Beckinsale, whose career is a little frustrating.  She’s clearly talented and has had tremendous opportunities, such as working with Scorsese.  She was excellent in one of my favourite horror films so far this century, Vacancy, but is probably best known for the Underworld movies which, while often great fun,  hardly challenged her acting talents.

Some of her contemporaries have become Oscar-winning megastars who straddle both serious drama and fist-pumping genre movies.  It seems a shame that an actor from these islands came so close to achieving that, but hasn’t really quite made it.  Based on this though, there may still be time; I haven’t seen a better performance from her elswehere.  In a couple of scenes she seems a little static, but this is a film dealing with relationships  and when things come to a head she is at the centre of things giving as good as she gets.

There’s a lot of emotion here, but it’s laugh-out-loud hilarious more than once.  Cox is a naturally funny guy and young Convery gets some hilarious one liners.

Sure, there are better redemption stories and some are bound to sneer that as a study of intergenerational violence and trauma it’s too on the nose.  But Hardwicke, Cox, Beckinsale, and Convery are going above and beyond and putting their all into this.  All I can say is that the movie delivered.  I laughed, cried, and gasped at one point too… it’s one of the best films I’ve seen so far this year, and I’ve no hesitation in recommending it.

The Prisoner’s Daughter opens in US cinemas on 30th June and then Prime in the UK on Tuesday 4th July.  Check it out.

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