Hugh Jackman plays a desperate father in the chilling new film Prisoners.
Although it ultimately lacks the courage of its twisted convictions, Prisoners is a provocative thriller about a father who takes justice into his own hands when his little girl is abducted at Thanksgiving.
The subsequent quest for answers and reconciliation, regardless of the horrific consequences, will strike a deep chord with parents.
Denis Villeneuve’s beautifully crafted picture plays out its nightmarish scenario without any sense of urgency.
Desperate times call for desperate measures and, when authorities fail to solve the case, Aaron Guzikowski’s script pulls no punches as it depicts the father’s transformation from doting family man to snarling judge, jury and executioner.
Explosions of violence are graphic, justifying the film’s 15 certificate.
When characters suffer, they do so in sickening close-up.
The film begins with Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) hunting with his teenage son, Ralph (Dylan Minnette).
They return home with a slain deer and the entire Dover clan, including wife Grace (Maria Bello) and daughter Anna (Erin Gerasimovich), heads over to the home of their neighbours, Franklin (Terence Howard) and Nancy Birch (Viola Davis), for Thanksgiving lunch.
Soon after, Anna and the Birch’s girl, Eliza (Zoe Soul), disappear to look for a missing whistle and never return.
The two sets of parents are distraught and Ralph remembers a suspicious RV parked down the road.
Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) and local police arrest the driver, Alex Jones (Paul Dano), who has the mental age of a 10-year-old.
Without any evidence to link Alex to the crime, police are forced to let their prime suspect go back into the care of his mother, Holly (Melissa Leo).
So Keller kidnaps Alex at gunpoint and holds the young man hostage.
“We hurt him until he talks or [the girls] are going to die,” Keller tells Franklin.
Prisoners is technically polished and director Villeneuve composes some stunning images with cinematographer Roger Deakins, bleached of colour and hope.
Guzikowski’s script pushes Keller to the edge of the abyss then curiously leaves him standing there for the final hour, throwing in numerous plot twists and another suspect (David Dastmalchian) to delay the father’s fall from grace.
Jackman is mesmerising as a protector willing to ignore his moral compass to reunite his fractured family.
Gyllenhaal invests his rebellious cop with an array of twitches and ticks that hint at rage bubbling beneath the surface while Dano is both pathetic and creepy as a man-child, whose innocence remains shrouded in doubt until the tricksy closing frames.
The excessive running time might put off some audiences, but patience is rewarded with fine performances and a slick final act that ties up most of the loose threads.
BLUE JASMINE (12A)
In a career spanning more than 50 years, Woody Allen has won four Oscars for his direction and writing, and been nominated for a further 19 golden statuettes.
He has been equally prodigious in guiding actors to Academy Awards recognition.
Diane Keaton started the winning run when she collected Best Actress for Annie Hall, then Michael Caine and Dianne Wiest won Best Supporting Actor and Actress for Hannah And Her Sisters, the latter doubling her mantelpiece haul when she garnered the same accolade for Bullets Over Broadway.
Mira Sorvino collected her glittering prize for Mighty Aphrodite and, most recently, Penelope Cruz seduced the Best Supporting Actress category with her fiery-tempered theatrics in Vicky Cristina Barcelona.
Cate Blanchett is strongly tipped to join that illustrious list for her tour-de-force portrayal of a cuckolded wife in the emotionally wrought comedy drama, Blue Jasmine.
The statuesque Australian actress is in almost every frame of Allen’s entertaining film, delivering his zinging dialogue with split-second timing and reducing herself to a blubbering wreck as her heroine’s privileged life in New York crumbles to its foundations after her husband is arrested for his dodgy business dealings.
In fragmented flashbacks, we meet Jasmine (Blanchett) during happier times married to businessman Hal (Alec Baldwin).
She has little time for her sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins) or then-brother-in-law Augie (Andrew Dice Clay), who foolishly invest their lottery winnings in one of Hal’s bogus property investment schemes.
When Hal’s exposed as a crook, all of Jasmine’s assets are seized and she is forced to head to San Francisco and move into divorcee Ginger’s modest apartment.
The sister’s new boyfriend Chili (Bobby Cannavale) and rival suitor Al (Louis C.K.) fails to impress snooty Jasmine, who is compelled to seek “menial work” as a secretary in the office of dentist Dr Flicker (Michael Stuhlbarg).
Then Jasmine meets a handsome diplomat called Dwight (Peter Sarsgaard), who has excellent prospects.
“It might be an inflated ego but I think I’d make a good Congressman,” he beams, heralding a turnaround in fortunes for the self-obsessed neurotic socialite.
Distinguished by Blanchett’s raw and bleakly funny performance, Blue Jasmine is one of Allen’s best films on US soil for some time.
Hawkins offers strong support as a sibling who has always lived in Jasmine’s finely tailored shadow, aided and abetted by Cannavale, Sarsgaard and Louis C.K..
Allen’s script is studded with pithy turns of phrase – “Never trust doctors, they put both my parents in early graves” – most of which are gifted to the leading lady as she expertly conveys her character’s downfall at her own manicured hands.
GIRL MOST LIKELY (12A)
Life is full of disappointments and the bedraggled heroine in Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini’s sweet-yet-slight comedy has suffered her ample share.
Feted as a promising playwright, Imogene (Kristen Wiig) squandered the money attached to a prestigious annual award and now wrings out the last drops of her creative juices to pen five-line blurbs for forthcoming Broadway shows.
Her relationship with workaholic boyfriend Peter (Brian Petsos) is stagnating and her coterie of well-to-do female friends – Dara (June Diane Raphael), Georgina (Michelle Morgan), Hannah (Mickey Sumner), Sloane (Elizabeth Inghram) – repeatedly remind Imogene of her humble origins.
“She’s from New Jersey,” sneers one in pity.
In short, Imogene is a crisis waiting to happen.
And happen it does when she loses Peter and her job in quick succession, followed by a faked suicide attempt which reunites Imogene with her errant, gambling addicted mother Zelda (Annette Bening) at her hospital bedside.
“Will you be willing to accept responsibility for the wellbeing of your daughter for the next 72 hours?” the doctor asks Zelda.
Thus Imogene returns to her ramshackle childhood home, where handsome aspiring actor Lee (Darren Criss) is now renting her bedroom and her eccentric brother Ralph (Christopher Fitzgerald) is still fixated on crustaceans and shelled reptiles.
Adding to Imogene’s woes, her mother has a new boyfriend called The Bousche (Matt Dillon), who claims to have a shadowy secret past within the CIA.
Determined to return to her social circle in Manhattan, Imogene slowly puts her life back in order while dealing with the deep wounds of losing her old man at an early age.
“He was the George Clooney of fathers,” she recalls dreamily.
Scripted by Michelle Morgan, Girl Most Likely is a coming of middle age comedy that trades heavily in cliches and familiarity.
Wiig, who was Oscar nominated for her script for Bridesmaids, is a gifted actress and can make the dullest lines seems amusing.
Here, she has meagre raw materials to work with, alternating between ungrateful and whiny until her heroine’s obligatory catharsis and redemption in the eyes of the people she truly loves.
Bening essays an appealing ditzy mom, who has coped as best she can raising two kids on her own while Fitzgerald brings innate likeability to his painfully shy sibling, whose wacky design for a human-sized tortoiseshell sanctuary is unexpectedly useful in a dire emergency
The romantic subplot between Wiig and Criss simmers but never truly comes to the boil.
A plot twist we see coming a mile off threatens to propel the film along an interesting tangent but Morgan’s script goes nowhere interesting with the additional characters.
Life is indeed full of disappointments and regrettably, in spite of fleeting charm and top calibre on-screen talent, Girl Most Likely is one of them.