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Film Review: Prisoners

Jackman may be the big star draw for Prisoners, but it’s Jake Gyllenhaal’s more understated and complex performance that is the stand-out of Denis Villeneuve’s absorbing thriller.

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It’s Jake Gyllenhaal that stands out in this absorbing thriller.

Prisoners lets Hugh Jackman explore his darker side as Keller Dover, the father who will stop at nothing to get his daughter back after her and a friend go missing on Thanksgiving. Jackman gives a frightening depiction of the anger and confusion of a parent in that situation – Dover is relentless in his pursuit of the ‘truth’ and justice, obtained at any cost, leading him into confrontation with suspect Alex (Paul Dano) when he’s released by police. Rage is something we’ve seen from Jackman before, but here it seems to come from a much deeper, more disturbing place than Wolverine’s. He loses more of himself the longer his daughter is lost.

Jake Gyllenhaal isthe lone, obsessive Detective Loki who’s brought on to the investigation, a cop who’s solved every case he’s had. His role could have easily been simply drawn from a template, but Gyllenhaal and director Denis Villeneuve create a mysterious character drawn from little details. He’s never made explicit, we glean hints of back-story from small clues – the tattoos on his neck and knuckles, the excessive blinking, the barely noticeable remark about a youth spent in a home for boys. Gyllenhaal brings a real assuredness and maturity to the role, more than matching up to Jackman, and ends as the real star of the show.

That being said, the rest of the cast are also uniformly excellent. Paul Dano (There Will be BloodLooper) as suspect Alex, who has an IQ of 10, manages to create the feeling that you’re convinced of his guilt one minute, and innocence the next; while Terrence Howard (Crash, Hustle & Flow), the father of the other missing girl, acts as the quiet conflicted conscience drawn into Dover’s dubious tactics. Viola Davis and Maria Bello also both get their own impressive moments as the distraught mothers.

Villeneuve displays the same skill of weaving mystery and emotional extremes into the story as he did with the 2010 Oscar-nominated Incendies. He brings a more artistic sensibility than a story like this might usually enjoy, with numerous atmospheric shots that linger on the woods or show the action through rain-covered glass. The direction and story-telling are aiming for something more subtle, not relying on jump-scares or an over-the-top score, but on creating a mood. The pace is fairly glacial at times (perhaps reflecting the true protracted nature of police investigations), but this serves to make those times when it does break out more tense, often with the feeling of things spiralling out of control. Yet, while the film is engaging throughout, it could do with trimming its significant 2 ½ hour running time.

While the case could be solved by an attentive viewer about halfway through, it’s refreshing that the plot isn’t totally spelled out, never overtly expositional, relying on the audience to be aware enough to make their own connections and judgements. Doubt is seeded throughout the film and the subtle nudges forward in plot pay off, with a couple of moments eliciting audible gasps from the audience. However, the film isn’t as complex or smart as it think it is, or might have been from the pieces assembled; and while Dover’s actions through the film raise questions – what rules are worth breaking to get to the truth? Are the means of this search justified by the ends? – these are ultimately undermined by the eventual resolution.

Jackman may be the big star draw for Prisoners, but it’s Jake Gyllenhaal’s more understated and complex performance that is the stand-out of Denis Villeneuve’s absorbing thriller.

PRISONERS
Directed by: Denis Villeneuve
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Paul Dano
Released by: Village Roadshow

Film Reviews

Spider-Man: Far From Home is a splendid coda to the Avengers

Save the world, save the girl?

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Spider-Man

Where do you go after Avengers: Endgame? The finale to an 11-year journey was always going to be a heavy exhale. But with much of the story finding conclusion, it was only natural that the next chapter would be something a little lighter, less fraught but still tense with importance. The question of responsibility and the burden of carrying it has been a fundamental principle of being a superhero in this universe, a burden that only continues in the final film of this phase. So where does the Marvel Cinematic Universe go after Endgame? Well, on holiday of course. Spider-Man: Far From Home is not only a splendid film but a nice coda to the biggest cinematic undertaking we’ve seen in recent history.

You can find Spider-Man: Far From Home nestled in the cinematic landscape somewhere between Iron Man 3 and National Lampoon’s Vacation. Peter Parker (Tom Holland, really solidifying himself as this generation’s best Spider-Man) is Clark Griswolding himself across Europe to chase the heart of MJ (Zendaya). As a bumbling 16-year-old who only wants to find the girl, his romance is cut a little short by the expected Marvel cinematic tomfoolery we’ve come to expect from our arachnid hero. Jake Gyllenhaal’s turn as Mysterio is a concerted effort; a cross between Tony Stark’s wise but too cool tutelage and Ben Kingsley’s Mandarin (take that how you will). As the carnage across Europe unfolds, the film becomes a well-balanced juxtapositioning of the kind of humor we’ve found appealing within in the MCU and action and adventure that doesn’t become overly burdensome or heavy. Far From Home keeps things light and breezy, but you never forget the stakes or think that this is just a tacked on fling after the events of Endgame.

The cast are well rounded and the addition of Marvel players we’ve come to love (Jon Favreau’s Happy Hogan, Spider-Man sidekick Ned, and both Nick Fury and Maria Hill) makes it hit with almost the same gravitas as the previous films. But more importantly, they never make the film feel like an overstuffed mess that plagued outings like Age of Ultron. The pace is engaging, and as the story unfolds amongst the smoke and mirrors, you can’t help but feel a kind of comic book happiness that you felt through Homecoming. It’s charming, it’s earnest, it’s funny, and at times, doesn’t take itself too seriously (Spider-Man video game in-joke included!). Plus it has those little moments that while may have been written for fans, will appeal to anyone who enjoys a good laugh, a touching moment, and good filmmaking. While the death of Tony Stark looms large within the narrative of the film, it doesn’t become baggage- but rather the catalyst for growth within Parker and helps propel the story to its conclusion.

However, one can’t help but feel that the continued presence of Tony Stark, and the reminder that he is gone, really does give this universe a sense of finality. If you stay for the end-credits (both scenes), you’ll know that Marvel has plans both big and small in the coming years. Far From Home is both the end and the beginning in a sense. It’s a nice coda to Endgame, and for some, probably a good place to step away from the past 11 years. Far From Home is also continued proof that heart and the desire to do good doesn’t always have to follow the same tired script. Save the world, lose the girl? Maybe not this time.

Spider-Man: Far From Home is in cinemas now.

SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME
Directed by: Jon Watts
Written by: Erik Sommers, Chris McKenna
Cast: Tom Holland, Zendaya, Jake Gyllenhaal, Samuel L. Jackson, Colbie Smulders, Marisa Tomei
Distributed by: Sony Pictures
Run time: 129 minutes

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Film Reviews

Film Review: Murder Mystery

Murder Mystery is a pretty crap film.

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Murder Mystery is the next film in the long line of terrible Adam Sandler films distributed by Netflix. At this point we’re not sure that Netflix actually watches these movies before they put them on their service but here we are. Murder Mystery, like many of the recent Sandler-helmed flicks, seem less like movies than they do lavish holidays that Adam Sandler and friends go on where filming of random skits tied together loosely by some semblance of narrative occurs. Much of the film is slapped together with the kind of duct-tape storytelling you’d find in all those mediocre SNL movies.

There is star quality though. Jennifer Aniston is back, after working alongside Sandler in 2011’s equally terrible Just Go With It, and they’ve roped in some pretty prominent names, including Luke Evans (Fast & Furious series, The Hobbit), Gemma Arterton, and a happily cashing in his check Terrence Stamp. What happens can be best described as stupid Cluedo, or more blatantly, a dumb Murder On the Orient Express where Sandler and Aniston’s characters, a bumbling New York cop and hair dresser, stumble upon a high-stakes inheritance-grab murder mystery where absurd things happen. It never makes much sense but the biggest problems with these movies are not so much the cartoony skits (Sandler’s cop is so bad at shooting his gun that when he does, it’s a cartoon-like hail of bullets missing their target), but just the insanely unbelievable characters that fill these movies. It’s OK to suspend belief, but at this point, you don’t believe for one second any of the characters would exist in real life or that any of them act like actual humans do. There is also no shortage of cartoon bozos: Fat New York cop sidekick? Check. Buffoony Inspector Clouseau French detective? Check. Overly Spanish Spanish guy? Check. Ali G Indian guy? Check. Even Gemma Arterton’s Jessica Rabbit-esque character would make Jessica Rabbit shake her head in disbelief. At least Rob Schneider isn’t in it.

Is it funny? No, but there are actually some moments worth a chuckle. And that’s already better than Sandler’s previous Netflix outings. Murder Mystery’s jokes are mostly at the expense of the exaggerated caricatures and Sandler’s goofy self, but for the most part, its pretty bereft of humor. To make matters worse, the film has that cheap Netflix sheen to it that makes it even more of a TV movie than it already is. In the end, the movie is such a blatant Murder on the Orient Express rip-off that the end scene literally shows the Orient Express train. Unironically too.

Netflix’s has a serious movie problem- one that we’ve talked about before. Murder Mystery, is no different. You can’t fault Sandler for continuing down this path. Same goes for Aniston. Both have more than established their craft over the years that at times, you can’t help but feel envious of the position they’re in. So what if they just want to put their feet up, cash in a nice pay check, and enjoy the nice sights? Who wouldn’t?

Murder Mystery is a pretty crap film, but it’s what happens when we’ve given this much clout to Netflix. Spielberg had a point when he said Netflix movies shouldn’t be competing for Oscars. It is not only because they eschew theatrical traditions, but it should also be because they’re crap. And not even in the Spielberg Artificial Intelligence sense of being an average movie- but in the Lifetime channel level of crap. So really, when you think about, Murder Mystery is all our fault.

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