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Prisoners_2013_1

Roger Deakins, eat your heart out.

Prisoners feels like the closest thing to a genuine Alan Moore movie that I’ve ever seen. It may seem cheapening to the work screenwriter Aaron Guzikowski did (stellar work, by the way) to say that, but I mean it as an utmost compliment. While Prisoners will make its way into the world on its strengths as a thriller featuring great performances, unpredictability, and moral ambiguity, there are layers within layers of symbolism, allegory, and inquiry being performed within what appears to be an eccentric, but straightforward kidnapping film. Alan Moore is a touchstone for me because of his penchant for layering symbolism in his narratives, attaching occult elements or bits of weird history into his stories. From Hell, the graphic novel, is what immediately comes to mind as I think back on this film.

I can’t think of a recent mystery thriller more surprising than Prisoners. This will probably be one of the things that leaves the biggest impression on audiences. Because the film takes its time (it’s 153 minutes long) and is very selective about what it shows and tells, it’s very difficult to predict the twists and turns. There’s a flirtation and subsequent abandoning of the conventions of the genre. It starts out feeling more formulaic, only to steadily layer uncertainty even on the level of its structure, which rolls out into the narrative and characterizations.

Prisoners is a very intelligent film. A lot of its merit will be lost on people who go into it only willing to engage with the surface. That said, it’s laudable that the movie works entirely on that surface level. It’s not perfect. There is a bit of bloat here, and there are scenes and moments that are not easily clarified in the context of the story nor its thematic significance. This can be confusing and unsatisfying as some of the lingering questions after the film aren’t the good kind.

This is a film you DON’T want spoiled. Do not read this review if you care about that and/or you’re planning to see the film. Read the rest of this entry »

deadmandown_review

They are evenly matched eyebrow thespians.

Dead Man Down seems like a pretty unassuming movie. It lands without any fanfare except maybe to people who watched the original The Girl Who Etc trilogy. I didn’t see them but I am familiar with the Korean revenge movie subgenre that I heard this is supposed to evoke. Like them, Dead Man Down skews more toward drama than action with a bit of weirdness in the form of implausible plot devices or contrivances that fuel a stylized sensibility. That said, Dead Man Down is not as stylized as it easily could have been. In general, it feels exceptionally down to Earth and while it’s gritty, it does not wear this like flash. This is the European approach to action-dramas and often this feels like a Luc Besson film or a distant cousin to 2011’s The American. That is, it’s more focused on character development and emotional intimacy than it is on the visceral aspects of a revenge film. It also mixes in earnest romance and some of the triumphant 80’s action movie optimism.

In some ways, it feels like it may have a bit of an identity crisis, but I think the mix of elements is strong alchemy, producing a great little film that is more than the sum of its parts. Read the rest of this entry »

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