Every so often a movie comes around that just looks interesting, but you are not prepared for just how stunning it truly is. It just seems like another good thriller that might be nicely satisfying, but this movie is far and beyond such meager expectations. Prisoners attracted me because I really love Hugh Jackman. He has such a genuine depth of humanity and intense screen presence in so much of what he does, but even then, I didn’t expect a performance and a film on this level of masterful brilliance.
How far would you go to protect your family? Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) is facing every parent’s worst nightmare. His six-year-old daughter, Anna, is missing, together with her young friend, Joy, and as minutes turn to hours, panic sets in. The only lead is a dilapidated RV that had earlier been parked on their street. Heading the investigation, Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) arrests its driver, Alex Jones (Paul Dano), but a lack of evidence forces his release. As the police pursue multiple leads and pressure mounts, knowing his child’s life is at stake the frantic Dover decides he has no choice but to take matters into his own hands. But just how far will this desperate father go to protect his family?
Brought to us by director Denis Villeneuve, Prisoners is undoubtedly the best film I have seen all year. A tight, taut, suspenseful and engrossing thriller that hits powerful emotional chords everywhere. If you thought the trailers gave too much away, you are very mistaken. There is so much more substance and plot nuances that a trailer could never accurately convey. Surely, I will not spoil anything for you, but the mystery of this film is cunningly devised with intelligent turns and a remarkable progression. There are many fine layers of character, emotion, and story here that interweave perfectly and beautifully. We are treated to so many well fleshed out characters inhabiting a story of very intense emotions and radical, unsettling violent actions with nerve racking consequences. You feel every ounce of emotion from these characters, and Villeneuve’s direction shines gloriously in every detail. I also love that nothing in this film is a red herring. Every lead, every piece of evidence, every detail adds to the puzzle which is brilliantly plotted out from a stunningly well written screenplay by Aaron Guzikowski. Prisoners is meticulously mapped out every step of the way, and Villeneuve utilizes all of that emotion and strategic, deliberate pacing to absorb you into the movie.
The cinematographer for this film was Roger Deakins, who also shot Skyfall which was immaculate work, and he does not falter here at all. I was constantly struck by the quality of the compositions as they all hold so much weight. Villeneuve has this shot and edited in a very conservative manner so that the substance of every frame soaks into the viewer so deeply. Early on, I love how fairly brief scenes are played out in wide masters to give you a dramatic and stoic impact on the story. The inspired cinematography constantly envelopes the screen translating the dramatic power of Villeneuve’s cinematic narrative in such exquisite detail and poignancy. The quality of the visuals, how the film is shot, and the style of editing constantly made me feel like this was a very 1970’s thriller with a modern polish. Even the Earth toned color palette reflects that, and the autumn / winter setting adds to the grim, somber atmosphere. Every technical quality of this movie is used to suck you into the depth of what transpires. Even the score is immensely effective, yet subtle. Everything just works with such precision to excellent effect.
I honestly believe that Hugh Jackman could possibly earn himself some accolades come awards season time. My faith in his talent has been paid off time and again, and I love seeing him in these gritty, hard hitting dramatic films. Keller Dover is a man who believes in preparing for the worst while praying for the best, and so, he is used to doing everything possible to protect his family from all dangers. When he feels he must take matters into his own hands, the emotional intensity of the film escalates drastically. Jackman is intensely powerful in this role pushing himself to that extra level that separates great from extraordinary. Pure, raw emotion pours out of him as Keller Dover struggles with doing the right thing for his daughter even though it is the worst, most unimaginable thing he’s ever done. The absolute conviction of what he believes he must do penetrates right through the screen right into your soul. This film constantly pushes this character into further emotionally and morally strained situations that challenge Jackman to deliver on higher and higher levels which he exceeds over and over again. This is why I love Hugh Jackman and why I was drawn to seeing this movie. He’s an incredibly relatable and engaging acting talent who pulls you in based on his depth of humanity, and that is gorgeously on display here in a masterfully crafted film.
Now, I haven’t seen Jake Gyllenhaal in anything since Donnie Darko, and it’s great seeing him in a mature, hard edge role. He is really solid as this vehemently dedicated cop who maintains a level head while remaining fully committed to this case. I love seeing how Detective Loki handles the strained, heated emotions of the Dovers and Birches, and how he manages everything with meticulous perceptiveness and a dogged mentality. It’s a wonderfully written character that empathizes with these hurting people and conveys his confidence with sincerity. Gyllenhaal is intensely compelling and intriguing to watch as the film progresses. From the moment he’s introduced, eating alone at a Chinese restaurant on Thanksgiving, he is complex and unique. I like the nuances added into his character such as the various small tattoos on his hands and neck. They give him a darker, grittier edge along with Gyllenhaal’s sort of dark aura. Yet, he is not a dark character, but is a riveting one that adds his own intensity to the narrative. This is also a marvelous performance that only becomes more fascinating and gripping at the film progresses.
The rest of the cast is equally as powerful. Mario Bello’s character of Grace Dover deals with this frightening tragedy of her abducted daughter by falling apart, relying on medication, and just becoming a mess. It’s a pure visceral deterioration of a person torn apart by fear and pain for a loved one. Terrence Howard is another actor I just love, and he delivers such vulnerability. The struggle Franklin Birch faces when Keller pulls him into the abduction and torture of Alex Jones is a perfectly human conflict. He wants his daughter back so badly, but almost can’t reconcile the morality of what he and Keller are doing to this man with the IQ of a ten year old. The dynamics between all of these characters and their passionate, pained emotions is magnificent to behold. Even Paul Dano makes you empathize so deeply for Alex. You are never certain whether he is responsible for anything at all, or that Keller is torturing a completely innocent man. The story twists around so beautifully wrapping everyone up in this complex tapestry that any truth is possible. Even more so, nothing is all that clean cut for any suspect, and no one is completely innocent. Everyone has something shameful, shady, or tragic which shows that these are real, textured, flawed people. Every character is written and performed with such substance and rawness that you can never take anything for granted or predict where this story will lead you.
I was constantly pleased with the sophistication of storytelling here. There were times I was a tad apprehensive that the pay-off of the mystery, or that the identity of the abductor would be spoiled too soon. Instead, it was another element of the puzzle being laid out carefully with surprising, unexpected, yet entirely purposeful turns. As I said, nothing is a swerve. You’re not lead down a frivolous path to a false lead. Everything introduced in this story is there for a substantial reason. The ultimate reveal is great allowing for everything to really fall into place, and put certain characters into further, tenser jeopardy. I loved how the final act unfolds. There’s real danger at hand, and nothing proceeds remotely like a cliché. This is a fresh, smart thriller that will captivate your attention for its entire 146 minute runtime. One would think that a deliberately paced thriller with that kind of runtime would lag somewhere or feel drawn out, but Prisoners makes amazingly solid use of every minute of screentime to progress every element of story and character to its ultimate, immensely satisfying and brilliant conclusion.
Denis Villeneuve has just come out of nowhere for me, and now, he has my undivided attention. Prisoners is absolutely perfect. There is not a single aspect of it for me to criticize, only praise. This is an incredible cast delivering amazingly powerful and raw performances in a rattling and haunting thriller. I have never stated in a review of a newly released movie that it is the best one I have seen all year because you never know what else could surprise you in the remainder of that year. However, I cannot imagine what else is possibly going to steal away that title from Prisoners because it is that stunningly impressive without a flaw in sight. Do yourself a great favor and see this movie and support it. I hope you are as enthralled with it as I was.
Sometimes, when you want it done right, you’ve got to do it yourself. That’s how I feel about the Marvel films. Until Iron Man, I don’t think anyone entirely handled the Marvel Comics properties correctly on a consistent basis, and so, it took until Marvel Studios was launched for a cohesive and high quality franchise of films to be created. This was the groundwork, and on every level, it was a stunning success.
Billionaire industrialist and genius inventor Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) is the CEO of the leader in military weaponry, Stark Industries. After Stark conducts a demonstration of the company’s state of the art Jericho Missile, his convoy is attacked and he is taken captive by a group of insurgents who want Stark to build him their own missile. Instead, using his intelligence and ingenuity, Tony builds a high-tech suit of armor and a means to prevent his death from the shrapnel left in his chest by the attack. Stark soon escapes captivity, and when he returns to the United States, he changes his outlook on life, and begins to dedicate himself to peace instead of war. He finds opposition and criticism from his closest confidants in business partner Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges), his best friend Lt. Colonel James Rhodes (Terence Howard), and his smart and affectionate secretary Peppers Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow). Yet, when he uncovers a nefarious plot with global implications, Tony Stark dons his powerful armor and vows to protect the world as Iron Man.
This is absolutely one of the best superhero origin stories ever realized on film. I had not been thoroughly impressed with any Marvel Comics movies before this since Blade. Whether it was unfaithfulness to the source material, the wrong talent involved, or the wrong tone being implemented, nothing from X-Men to Daredevil to Spider-Man ever really got it completely right in my view. Iron Man is a perfect example of handling it right. This set an excellent tone for the full Marvel Cinematic Universe, and also reflects the tone of Marvel Comics, in general. It can have good drama, but usually, Marvel Comics are meant to be largely fun and colorful. Director Jon Favreau does an exemplary job meshing those ideas together in a very cohesive and entertaining film.
It’s beautiful how Favreau sets up and establishes Tony Stark here. We get a dash of the charisma and personality followed by the awards ceremony video package detailing his history in short. It gives you all the basics right up front in an entertaining and succinct fashion. This style permeates the film being sharp, smart, and stylish. It also reflects Stark’s personality. He’s a man of sharp wit, arrogant intellect, but is irrefutably charming and fun. I can hardly imagine anyone but Robert Downey, Jr. pulling off this diverse and engaging role. The charming yet arrogant egotist is a major challenge, but it seems to come easy to Downey. It’s that sense of heart and lovability he adds in there, especially opposite Paltrow, which allows Tony Stark to come off as a charismatic joy instead of a self-important jerk. Downey is simply a vibrant, solid leading man who handles the dramatic, soul searching aspects of Tony Stark as strongly as the fun, humorous bits. He’s compelling and electric on screen. He makes that subtle, yet profound evolution from the self-important genius to the selfless, righteous hero masterfully. He doesn’t just embody Tony Stark, he launches him into excellence.
Jeff Bridges does an excellent job as Obadiah Stane. He’s an immensely diverse actor able to do the full spectrum from kind hearted hero to tough, gritty guy, and here, he gives us some taste of that whole range. We get the upbeat, friendly guy who is very close to Tony, and can work an awards ceremony audience or a press conference with charisma and spin. Then, we get the gradual transition to the intimidating, menacing villain. It’s a masterful turn towards the corrupt businessman willing to sell out his company, best friend, and country for profit. Bridges embraces all of these fascinating aspects with great zeal making Stane a very solid and smart enemy for Stark to combat. In general, he just plays an awesome heavy. And apparently, Bridges always wanted to shave his head for a role, and I think maybe that propelled his enjoyment of the character.
I also really love Terrence Howard. He’s an amazing actor that I hold in high value. As Lt. Colonel James Rhodes, he’s really a joy. The strongest qualities are his vibrant chemistry with Downey, and the sense of compassion and honor he has. Rhodey’s clearly a great character with a lot of depth and dynamics to offer, and I think Howard was wonderful in this part. It’s a performance that gives us a character of potential, and while it’s unfortunate that Howard could not negotiate a return for the sequel, the character has yet to go to waste in any actor’s hands. And of course, I’ve always loved the little tease of War Machine we get going into the third act. It’s a great moment thrown out for fans, but also works smartly for non-comic fans.
And of course, Gwyneth Paltrow is wonderful as the sweet and smart Pepper Potts. It’s great how Pepper brings out the heartfelt honesty in Tony, and Paltrow does that with some great subtlety and charm. She makes Pepper this interesting person who can be very assertive and a sharp business personality, but then, get very sweet and flustered when trying to keep up with Tony’s rapid fire wit. The chemistry between her and Downey is beautiful, and really allows for the humanity of Tony Stark to show through.
What we get here is a very strong and smart origin story that never bogs us down. So many origin stories seem to suck up a lot of time just establishing every little element methodically before we get to see the hero come into being. With Iron Man, the film unfolds at a tight rhythm always pushing the story and character forward to where you are fully invested in Tony Stark, and what he’s going through. We see the man himself evolve and change his sensibilities in order to make Iron Man what he needs to be. It is a story of redemption. Stark is reforming his ways and becoming accountable for what his company does, and how his negligent behavior has facilitated Stane’s corruption of Stark Industries. It’s qualities like this which make Stark one of the more fascinating Marvel superheroes. He has a lot of bad behavior and decisions to make up for while trying to build a better, safer future for everyone. The relationship with Pepper Potts beautifully reinforces the depth of humanity that is motivating Tony. He wants to be a better person that saves lives instead of enabling war.
I love the motivating scene where Tony is watching the newscast of the Ten Rings having ravaged Yinsen’s hometown while he is working on the Iron Man gauntlet. It’s that moment which triggers Stark into action as a protector doing what no one else can. That is the moment where his purpose and path is clear. He’s been betrayed by one of his closest friends, and sees that betrayal has lead to this level of tragedy and injustice. He will not stand for it, and that is the scene where Iron Man is solidified.
We also get those great phases as Tony goes through the Mark I, Mark II, and Mark III armors gradually refining Iron Man. Each one is excellently adapted from the pages of the comic book making them convincing as functional pieces of machinery. The visual effects married with practical elements create a cohesive and seamless result. These are top grade visual effects featured throughout this movie giving us dynamic, cinematic images that serve the story superbly.
This film has plenty of sharp, smart humor. These moments really create the fun factor of Iron Man, and maintain the entertainment value in between the scenes of action and engaging drama. They hit in just the right moments to highlight the well written and developed qualities of these characters. And the dramatic qualities of Iron Man are executed with equally great skill and care. The emotional weight and drive of this story is powerfully accentuated throughout. Excellently directed by Jon Favreau, all of this results in a movie of great thrills.
This is just filled with wonderfully done action sequences. They are never frivolous. They drive the story and characters forward each time. Stark has something to fight for each time whether it’s freedom, destruction of his back market sold weaponry, or protecting those he cares for, it all has a purpose to exist. The action climax is beautifully done. It has bombastic intensity and emotional stakes while all the while being fun and thrilling. It is exceptionally satisfying.
Needless to say, Iron Man is one of the best comic book movies ever made. The casting of Robert Downey, Jr. was brilliant and pitch perfect. There are possibly other actors that could have done a fine job with the role, but what Downey brings is that sharp wit and charisma that instantly and endlessly entertains an audience while hitting all the dramatic beats beautifully. Favreau was also ultimately a fantastic choice for a director bringing in a lot of those same elements from behind the camera. This was an exciting, successful launch to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and that little tease after the end credits of Tony getting a visit from Nick Fury drove fans crazy at the time. What Marvel Studios has since done with this universe and franchise is an amazing achievement that is not ready to slow down anytime soon.
Recently, in order to expand the exposure of Forever Cinematic, I have begun doing video movie reviews on YouTube. Now armed with my new high-definition camcorder, I’m putting forth fast paced reviews that summarize my feelings and critiques on various films. Mainly, I am reviewing newly released films alongside the written reviews, but in lulls between those reviews I am taking stuff from the archives to further publicize the back catalog of reviews I’ve done. The video reviews are an extension of the written ones, and I will not be doing a video review of something I have not done a written review of first. These video movie reviews only enhance the content, not replace it.
So far, listed below these are the video reviews I have done which are posted to the RavensFilm Productions YouTube Channel. The first two were shot prior to obtaining my Sony HDR-CX580V camcorder, and so, they are in standard definition quality. From Miami Vice forward, you get 720p HD in 24fps which is a massive upgrade on every technical level. There will also be occasional Forever Cinematic “Specials” where I maybe do a Top 5 list, spotlight some bad movies I own, do a run through of my complete Star Wars home video collection, or whatever else strikes me as fun and entertaining. I hope you will enjoy these videos, share them around, and subscribe to the RavensFilm Productions YouTube Channel to catch all the new videos as they are posted. Thanks much!
I only got turned onto the existence of this movie last week, and the trailer did blow me away. It seemed like a very visually captivating piece of art in the violent crime genre. I certainly do not feel the trailer was wholly misleading, as it does capture some of what the film has to offer, but it did give me a somewhat exaggerated expectation. Dead Man Down is indeed a very good film from the director of the original The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Niels Arden Oplev, with a slow building substance and good performances. It felt like it was giving me a different approach to the revenge film archetype focusing more on the emotional depth of those affected by these tragedies instead of delving into the clichéd Death Wish type of scenario. I do have some critiques to levy against the movie, partly due to expectations, but in general, I did find some enjoyment with Dead Man Down.
Victor (Colin Farrell), a rising gangland player, has infiltrated the crime empire run by ruthless kingpin Alphonse (Terrence Howard), with the single purpose of making Alphonse pay for destroying his once happy life. As he meticulously orchestrates his vengeance from his high-rise home, Victor watches and is watched by Beatrice (Noomi Rapace), a mysterious young woman who lives in the apartment across from his. On the surface a fragile woman-child, Beatrice seethes with a rage of her own. When she uncovers Victor’s dark secrets, she threatens to expose him unless he helps her carry out her own campaign of retribution. Each fixated on avenging the past, they devise a violent and cathartic plan that could change their worlds forever.
As I said, this film focuses on its emotionally and physically scarred victims of injustice instead of shoot ‘em up action. That’s what really captivated me about the film as it went on. It does take a while for the film to get into the depth of our protagonists, but that ultimately fits with the film’s style. It slowly builds the relationship between Victor and Beatrice from a fractured need for violent retribution to something far more of the heart and soul. This slow development might not be for everyone, but I did enjoy those moments when the film arrived at them. The gradual progression paid off well, and that’s mainly due to the very good performances and the quality of the direction.
While I’ve rarely seen the potential of Colin Farrell fully realized on film, I’ve had a lot of faith in his talent, and I like seeing him in films. There are a few I do need to see where he is very charismatic and potentially wildly entertaining. In this film, we get subtlety and depth. We, firstly, see the glimpses into his character’s pain. The tragic loss he has endured is shown through in very touching moments of him watching a home movie of his family. Where the standard action revenge film has the lead essentially turning into the Punisher, this film highlights the pain within and deals with the substantive choices of the heart and mind that these actions have. What we see grow out of the relationship with Beatrice is indeed a rediscovery of humanity for him. Colin Farrell really made me feel the anguish of the love Victor forges with Beatrice. It’s genuine and touching, and it’s what makes the film worthwhile.
Noomi Rapace is equally excellent. I felt for Beatrice possibly even more than Victor. Her life has also been shattered, but she is left with the physical scars to always remind her of what she’s lost. The injustice she has faced is internally and externally crippling. The neighborhood kids assault her, insult her by calling her “monster.” Her pain evokes sympathy at every turn, and her screaming at Victor to give her revenge is something we cannot fault her for. Rapace puts in a beautiful performance of heartbreaking depth, but also, we see that heart mend along the way. She and Farrell do work very well together striking a substantive emotional chord that resonates. I was emotionally effected several times during their most painful and poignant scenes together. With the direction of Niels Arden Oplev, these scenes are given weight and prominence through fine cinematography and effective use of music.
Now, I also really like Terrence Howard as an actor. I’ve seen him in enough to really enjoy his charisma and intelligence. As Alphonse, he does carry some very good weight. It’s not a powerhouse performance, but he does get his scenes to shine in. He can be ruthless and cunning as well as a little bit intimidating. I did like what he did in this role, but I do feel there could’ve been more added to him. While we know what he has done to deserve this methodical campaign of torment and revenge, we never really see him doing anything on-screen to further that perception of a vile, cold blooded crime lord. Alphonse does still have people he answers to in the hierarchy of organized crime, but we certainly get the impression he is substantially formidable. I feel Howard’s best scene is when he meets with Victor to have him weed out the one responsible for this torment. It’s an excellently staged, shot, and acted scene that I wish went on a little longer. I felt it ended a little abruptly, but nonetheless, it is a stellar scene that I really liked.
The film also has some nice small performances by Armand Assante as Alphonse’s boss, and F. Murray Abraham as Victor’s Hungarian father-in-law. Both actors bring their best quality forward to really give some strong support to these minor but no less pertinent characters. Abraham certainly has more screentime to work with, and more emotional content to convey. All the rest of the supporting cast does a really fine job. No weak links here at all.
What action scenes there are in Dead Man Down are well done. I particularly liked the chase / escape scene after Victor’s sniper attack. It’s very well conceived and executed with stellar results. While there is handheld camera work here, the editing is relatively conservative allowing for the geography of the action to be maintained. I was never lost in these sequences. The visual grammar was very solid and flowed nicely. As always, that’s partly due to a very good editor that knows the right way to let the action play out in a coherent fashion. The rest of it is an intelligent director and a damn good director of photography in the form of Paul Cameron. He has previously worked with Michael Mann on Collateral and Tony Scott on Man on Fire. Both films had very different styles, but were both helmed by filmmakers who knew how to competently and intelligently shoot action and hefty drama. Dead Man Down is no different as it is very well shot with its own grounded style, but with special artistic touches that I found very intriguing and visually enjoyable.
The score by Jacob Groth, a regular collaborator with Oplev, is very well done accentuating the emotional strengths of the film. Generally speaking, his work here is very effective and sets the right tones at the right times. Not much really stood out, but his score was very pivotal in enhancing the moments of the film that hit my strongly on an emotional level. I think that says plenty. In the context of the movie, there’s only a single rap song, and that’s from the outset shootout sequence. Admittedly, I am not a fan of that genre of music, but it was used quite well and I enjoyed its momentary inclusion.
The story we have here is presented and executed quite well. While it did take a while to get me to a point where I connected with it, emotionally, it’s great once it does get there. We finally get into the meat of the story that’s unfolding here, and I do believe Niels Arden Oplev does quite a good job at telling that story. He never really rushes through anything. He takes the time for the weight of the characters and their actions to be absorbed by the audience. We get to understand what’s happening beneath the surface of these characters. While I was never wholly energized by the film, I was engaged by it. I do wish that the film delivered more on the artistic visual awe that I was ensnared by in the trailer, but as it is, I did generally enjoy what I experienced.
However, the main critique I have against the film is that the film really felt like it was building towards something more substantive and emotionally powerful than the climax it gave us. Simply put, without delving into spoilers, we essentially get a straight up action sequence that more than borders on your standard action revenge film climax. It’s not a badly done sequence, but it wasn’t mind blowing either. That’s the one thing the trailer really drove me towards expecting – action scenes presented in an artistic, mind blowing fashion. Something that would be visually beautiful while maintaining a graceful substance of emotion. Thus, the climax left me underwhelmed. It gives us a moment or two of substance, but aside from the initial fiery slow motion explosion, it’s generally your standard action film climax with gunfire everywhere and splashy stunts to jump start it all. It felt a little shallow for a film that had so much depth, and a tad cliché for something that seemed to give us a fresher perspective on the revenge thriller idea. I also felt that what happens to Alphonse was a little too much out of a B-grade action movie because it allowed for no emotional poignancy for the characters or story. I think the film demanded something with more dramatic weight and emotional satisfaction. Again, the climactic action sequence is well made, but from the artistic point of view, it left me wanting something more substantive.
I would buy Dead Man Down when it hits DVD. I think it has enough admirable and valuable qualities that I could enjoy watching it again. The performances are quite solid all around delving us into a realistic well of emotion. The development of the love between Victor and Beatrice is beautifully done with two excellent actors really digging down deep to pull at my heartstrings a few times. The film only has about three action scenes in it, and they are all well done. Still, it is not something to expect a lot of excitement or high charisma for. If there’s anything that does deter anyone from it, I believe it is that fact. The film deals with subtle, grounded performances with a gradual pace that does pay off, but might leave some audiences cold. You’re either going to become invested in these characters or you are not, and if not, then there’s really little else to engage your attention. Now, you may notice a peculiar WWE Studios logo attached to this film, as in the professional wrestling company. I really believe that’s only there because one of their wrestlers, Wade Barrett, has a very minor role as a mafia henchman. He has maybe three or four lines in the whole movie, and is mostly background muscle in a suit. WWE Studios likely had next to no creative input on this film as it’s certainly far above their low grade, cheap schlock standards. Don’t let that peculiar logo at the start of the film throw you off. Dead Man Down is mostly very good, but overall, it’s just pretty good. Regardless of my trailer induced expectations, it does have a few shortcomings with the climax and the lack of a particular emotional veracity, but if any of what I’ve conveyed to you is to your tastes, I feel the movie is worth checking out in one form or another with the right set of expectations.