A man serving an unidentified sentence at a state correctional facility has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. His doctor told him he had four more months to live. Given the option to end his time under house arrest, he calls his estranged daughter and asks if he can live with her. The brief interaction causes years of buried emotions and an awkward long journey towards reconciliation.
So begins Catherine Hardwicke’s arduous film Prisoner’s Daughter, changing between competing aspirations and ultimately failing to fulfill them. The film stars Kate Beckinsale and Brian Cox as a daughter and father whose relationship has been marred by years of rejection and abandonment.
Not required to see.
Max (Cox) has been jailed several times during his life, the most recent lasting 12 years. Maxine (Beckinsale) spent her youth taking care of her mother, who, after her father went to prison, drank herself to death. Prisoner’s Daughter has all the results of an in-depth study of disturbed family dynamics, but it abandons that angle in order to meet the needs of a Detour action – thrilling. Cloaked in so many clichés, the 98-minute film feels like a marathon.
There is a promise in the first half, which creates a benevolent portrait of a single mother struggling to make ends meet. Maxine rotates between two jobs to support herself and her early son, Ezra (Christopher Convery). The rising cost of living — her son’s epilepsy medication alone is $170 — coupled with ex-husband Tyler (Tyson Ritter) spending all of his money on medication instead of child support, makes most Every day turns into a hard-won battle. Despite her careful nature, Maxine doesn’t completely succumb to pessimism: Her life may not be what she imagined it to be, but she takes pride in her efforts.
That’s why the phone call from Max (Cox), her father, confused her so much. After years of little contact and no support, Maxine was thrown by him for an offer of a modification. She initially scoffed at his request, but after losing her day job and making another amazingly long trip to the pharmacy, she changed her mind. Maxine accepts her father’s offer on several conditions: He must pay the rent and stay away from her.
Where Max gets the money to pay for his daughter is not entirely clear, but the rules of the arrangement are not the issue. Max’s arrival makes the daily life of Maxine and her son more exciting. The tough boundaries dissolve and the trio becomes a lovely routine – dining together at the small dining room table, dusting off old photo albums and sharing stories of the past. Max takes Ezra under his protection, training the boy in self-defense and helping him better understand his mother’s protective parenting style. As for Max and his daughter, the two mend their relationship slowly and on purpose. Their conversations mark their progress – shallow, perfunctory conversations that soon become heavy vestiges of the past.
Prisoner’s Daughter offers some valuable messages, including that it’s never too late to make amends, start over, or apologize. But Bacci’s script doesn’t seem to care enough about creating the characters to achieve the expected emotional resonance. Max, Maxine, and Ezra feel more like placeholders serving twisted stories than people grappling with personal shortcomings and trying to heal old wounds. After a while, Max and Ezra start to seem alike, especially when you realize that second-person curiosity is just a clumsy way to get from one plot point to the next. And Maxine’s character develops in a puzzling direction: How can a woman who started out as a careless single mother turn out to be a miserable girl in distress, caught between her father and ex-husband?
By the time the third action occurs, Prisoner’s Daughter starts to look like another movie – moving from human drama to a high-stakes action movie. Maxine’s ex-husband Tyler, who stalks her in an attempt to see his son, becomes a more sinister matter when he realizes Ezra’s opinion of him has changed. Max’s mentorship for Ezra threatens the failed musician, who ruins Ezra’s birthday party and creates a scary scene. Here the film has the sound of a horror movie: Our senses are heightened when we realize that Tyler might be trying to do something dangerous or stupid.
He does both, and Hardwicke’s film approves, and quickly transitions into that genre. The director’s unobtrusive style is a boon here: Comfort combines with storytelling to create a suspenseful third act. However, it is disappointing that at the end Prisoner’s Daughter We’ve been through a lot with the characters, while knowing so little about them.
Venue: Toronto International Film Festival (Presentation Gala)
Production company: Oakhurst Entertainment, Capstone Studios, Sam Okun Productions, Pasaca Entertainment
Actors: Kate Beckinsale, Brian Cox, Ernie Hudson, Christopher Convery, Tyson Ritter
Directed by: Catherine Hardwicke
Screenwriter: Mark Bacci
Producer: Sam Okun, Marina Grasic, David Haring
Executive Producers: Guy Moshe, Christian Mercuri, Ruzanna Kegeyan, Chris Rasmussen, Crystine Zhang, Robert Morgan, Jai Khanna, Mark Bacci, Jason Duan, Wen-Chia Chang, Justin Oberman, Catherine Hardwicke
Cinematographer: Noah Greenberg
Production designer: Pele Kudren
Costume designer: Marie France
Editor: Glen Scantlebury
Composer: Nora Kroll-Rosenbaum
Casting Director: Ferne Cassel
1 hour 38 minutes