Tuesday, July 4, 2017

"Prisoners" is still so very stupid

By s. Tuesday, July 4, 2017 , ,

(yes, the website is still on hiatus, but my upcoming RF bulletpoint for Prisoners turned into 20-paragraph long rant so yes, we're doing this today)

There is one thing that fascinates me more than what seems like almost universal love for Denis Villeneuve's 2013's assault on brain cells entitled Prisoners and that is the amount of holes in the story of this film. I can only think of two truly atrocious scripts in the recent memory that dragged otherwise promising and well executed films to the bottom of 'what the fuck?' stupidity - this and Interstellar. And this one may actually be dumber than Matthew McConaughey floating around book shelves in space and coding a watch so that Jessica Eureka Chastain solves physics stuff in the future or past or whenever.

No, wait. Nope. Nothing is dumber that that.

I have recently sat through this awfully paced but beautifully shot movie for the third time just to hear Hugh Jackman yell the word "fuck" and look handsome. Don't judge me. At least it allows me to give movies second chances. Or in this film's case second (in March) and third (last Saturday) chance. And in this case proving to me that my initial reaction to it was right on the money.
In fact there are only two things here I appreciated more than initially - the score, which I didn't remember to be this wonderful and yes, Jackman's performance but only in one scene. There is a scene in Prisoners that initially thanks to his acting came off as over the top. But considering it's a long and tense scene as opposed to just 'long scene' like the rest of this movie it stands out. It also stands out because the writing in it is actually good. I'm talking about the confrontation between Jackman's Keller Dover, a man whose daughter disappeared and Gyllenhaal's detective Loki, who is supposed to find her.

The scene is a clear standout in the movie but it is only now having seen pictures like this that I was able to appreciate one aspect of Jackman's performance. It's insane that someone like that has such a capacity for rage. We aren't just talking about acting like he is angry. This isn't even all the rage of his performances as the Wolverine combined. The rage depicted by Jackman in this moment raises and raises to the point it's just one unstoppable ball of fury. I cannot remember the last time I saw something like this and thanks to the writing in this scene, in this moment his rage comes directly from his helplessness of being unable to find his little girl. I was very impressed. And I was also filled with admiration for Jake Gyllenhaal who in this moment did not get the fuck out of the car and run as far as his legs could carry him.

Unfortunately, most of the performance is desperate 'please give me awards' kind of role (albeit with enough of shining moments that it's absolutely weird the Academy members didn't nominate it). In my original review I tore his work apart (as did Fisti who also hated this movie). Thing is that when you watch Scoop and especially Prisoners more times his performances get better. But it's due to familiarity. The scenes of his insane yelling, punching, looking like he is about to murder everyone, would come off just as jarring as they did for me upon initial viewing. Audiences shouldn't be required to pathetically google 'Hugh Jackman walking his dogs' for hours like yours truly does on weekends to appreciate just how intense he can get on screen. It's only when Jackman's work has at least some subtlety to it - like the scenes of him sitting on the floor and quietly praying - that it has truly great impact. But it's very rare here.

What doesn't help Jackman is the characterization and the fact the film saddles him with this absolutely ridiculous person to play. He has a shelter in his basement. He perpetually prays. To add to all the heaviness he is also an alcoholic (and they threw in the 'family dog died last year and I buried it' line for good measure of holy hell, this is dark). That's just bleak. But here's what is stupid - in spite of him having the keen power of observation - something that literally only two characters in this nightmare of a script posses - the film forces him to utter the same lines so often that added to the paranoia of his character just comes off as laughable. He says the lines about "knowing" so frequently that all I could think of was that dude from Predator who sees them...over the line....of trees.
And even though I bumped the final grade to 6 from 4,5 for the cinematography, a certain spectacular driving scene near the end, the music and Jake Gyllenhaal's amazing performance which is perhaps the most incredible recent example of an actor doing wonders with the material, the film just remains so very stupid. And thus it's why I am writing this and why the film is so frustrating - because the cast, the director, the score, the cinematography - all those elements that could have made for a great movie are all undone by the script.

Let's not even focus on the entire premise where the two little girls don't ask their older siblings to accompany them outside in spite of them doing so moments prior in the movie when they were walking out. Or on the parents seemingly not noticing their youngest offspring is gone for hours in spite of them just going out to look for whistle in the house across the street. Or on the fact no one in this neighborhood, on Thanksgiving no less, didn't seem to be bothered that there is a creepy as fuck RV parked on the street. There are far more idiotic things here in this horribly paced film that had it not been for me laughing (1st viewing) and staring at Jackman intensely while I perved hard on twitter about him (2nd and 3rd viewing) would make it straight up unwatchable.
That whole subplot with David Dastmalchian, a very talented and memorable actor, playing a character who took all the children's clothes out of stores but NOT the ones belonging to the two abducted girls which he stole from their houses you'd think the police would be watching - so that they have a reason to give Jackman the opportunity to cry - and me immediately livetweet stuff like 'don't cry boo boo' while watching it -  is incomprehensible. No, not in the way this could have not happened because I suppose it could have happened. But it's incomprehensible in the way that this flimsy, silly idea is the best the writer could think of here. Easy - say he steals clothes from random people's houses. But nah. Because then Gyllenhaal's Loki who is the second smart character here - would instantly figure out how the guy had a sock and Jackman wouldn't get his big Oscar bait (number 4 or 5 here - do you guys think he ever wakes up in the middle of the night just shouting "TELL ME WHERE THEY ARE?!"? I totally think so) scene which of course in Oscar season amounted to nothing so there is practically nothing good that came out of this movie.

And the way Jackman's character seemingly breaks down and thinks his daughter is dead but then he comes home and is like 'your sister is alive'...what? At least for him to assume that Paul Dano's Alex - who is by the way barely present and appears to have an out of body experience having traveled to meditation center on planet Chillax as the Wolverine is viciously beating him up - took the kids he has a number of reasons - him saying they didn't cry until he left them, him knowing the Batman song the girls sang. OK so just two reasons, but at least he had two.
Him just out of the blue assuming his daughter must be alive is just such an atrocious piece of writing considering how he repeatedly obsesses over the amount of time that has passed since the girl gone missing and how much time she has left without food or water. Before there was some reason to think she was alive but the film only has him declare she must be once his character is provided with practically irrefutable evidence that she is dead. Of course we us the audience know she isn't because we can see the sock thing coming about 30 minutes before Villeneuve decides this thrilling (not), elaborate (not) and amazing (not) script is finally ripe to reveal its secrets (just stop).

But the dumbest thing about this whole movie is something that if it was even close to realistic would mean the movie ended after 40 minutes. The film wants us to believe that Paul Dano's character, who basically has a mind of a 10 year old child would stay silent for days even though 1. he knows where the girls are 2. we are later told he is a good person who was simply terribly hurt 3. he is getting severely beaten up by a man of Jackman's strength and rage of a heartbroken, desperate father whose little girl is missing. That ridiculous as hell moment where Jackman hits the hammer on the wall and that wall almost crumbles? That shit was real. That is how hard he can hit. We are not given a single reason or even less, a hint to a reason as to why this kid stays silent. Then when he finally speaks up he talks of the maze which is yet another asinine plot development.

That whole maze thing is kinda like the twist in Arrival - Villeneuve's other movie that for me is even worse than this one. I'd gladly watch Prisoners every day instead of sitting through bland Adams wandering aimlessly even once more. I swear watching Arrival the one and hopefully only time I'll ever see it felt like I was getting punished for my great many sins - where they incompetently try to make the film more than what it is - an atrociously written snoozefest. In Arrival they stupidly served the only emotional impact of the story as the twist near the end of the film, preventing me from giving a damn for the entire sluggish 2 hours that preceded the reveal. Here the whole thing revolves around the Maze (funny thing - it was actually the title of this movie here in Poland). The script writer thinks he is being clever - maze on the walls, maze in a creepy flashback (as puzzling as one dream sequence for Jackman's character - flashbacks, dream sequences, all that was missing was a fucking musical number), ooh a medallion in the shape of the maze - and it's all connected. But so what? The fact that it is all connected adds probably a good hour to the movie while throwing ridiculous red herrings at the audience and making the audience question just one thing and one thing only- how the hell are all those sex offenders who are positively crawling in this small town not being constantly investigated by the police?

Ah yes, the cops. The entire movie would have ended even sooner if they did the one thing even the most incompetent police would do - put surveillance on the only suspect as soon as they let him out of jail. But nah. The entire story of this movie hinges on people not even doing dumb things but doing absolutely incomprehensible things. Or having things happen when plot needs them to instead of when they would happen organically. Jake Gyllenhaal's detective character is skilled, observant and extremely diligent. But the film only has him see the medallion on photos once it's convenient for the plot. Another small thing that stands out and is absolutely infuriating is that these people don't actually say the first thing that you would say in certain situations - in the first scene Keller and Loki appear together Keller is convinced Alex is guilty because he was running away from the cops. You'd think an experienced detective like Loki would explain to Keller than even an innocent person, let alone someone who is mentally handicapped, would get scared and run away from the armed cops cornering them. But nah. He is just standing there, grinning like an idiot and saying he is looking into things.
The characters act in absolutely uncharacteristic ways, sometimes bordering on insanity. The worst offense is yet again to do with poor Jackman's character (sir, I know my tweets alone are grounds to sue but I'm absolutely not threatening. Please let me look at the scripts of the movies you are considering to appear in because I am suffering here). I can maybe let go of the fact that once he realizes where his daughter is he runs out on his own to rescue her instead of at least turning around and shouting to about dozen cops who surround him where she is (by the way, since he runs he himself becomes a suspect which is yet another stupid thing).

But throughout the film we see his character as this insanely paranoid, violent type, who teaches his son how to shoot animals and has shelter in his basement in case something terrible happens. We know he has a gun, because that is how he abducts Alex. So imagine my confusion when this guy - who has spent days torturing a young handicapped person, so clearly he has no scruples when it comes to people he believes are responsible for his daughter's disappearance - doesn't just force his way into Alex's house and threatens Melissa Leo enough to tell him where his kid is or restrains her, which he could easily do and searches the house on his own.
No, no.

What happens is that he has a PLAN.

Hugh Jackman knocks on the door of her house with toolbox in his hand because he wants to fix her door (so she lets him in). This is like straight out of some of my many vivid erotic fantasies about this man. But for the love of God, this is not a deranged sexual fantasy of mine, a person who thank Heavens isn't writing scripts but just those silly posts, this is supposed to be a serious thriller film. You magnificently gorgeous man, you're not there to seduce her and bang her roughly and repeatedly on the table. You're there to get your abducted kid back! I don't think he actually went there unarmed but the film isn't giving me much reason to assume otherwise. I mean if history (this movie so far) taught us anything (about awful writing), then yes, he probably went there unarmed. The thing is - the idea he would control himself enough to come up with elaborate (well, for a man like him who is fine...but so simple) plan and try to rescue his child in this fashion is yet another excuse to add more time and more ridiculous plot development to the story. He could have just shouted I know where my kid is! to the cops, they would search the house and if he was wrong they would apologize.

But no. Into the fucking ditch we go.
This all of course results in a ridiculous scene where this gigantic, strong guy is overpowered by Melissa Leo playing a fragile older lady. She drugs him and has him put on the handcuffs (at the very least the latter provided for nice visual) and then she shoots him in the leg and he falls into the ditch. She then covers the ditch up by parking a car over it. Only days after the police is there finishing up searching the place - the geniuses of course didn't move the car and found the ditch - and happily detective Loki is there and he hears the whistling because Dover found his daughter's whistle and I'm guessing was sitting there in that ditch, bleeding out, praying and blowing into that whistle like a fucking asshole for days. It's obvious to anyone what happens after the end credits start - that Dover is found - but in case there is doubt imdb trivia spoils that and provides an insight that amazingly this film could have been even worse - originally, Hugh Jackman was never discovered by police at end. He would have remained a missing person, and died a la The Vanishing (1988), but this was deemed too bleak.

"Too bleak", nah, really? Jesus Christ, of course that would have been too bleak.
That ending which is admittedly very well executed is the final flourish meant to distract you from the fact that you just sat through 153 minutes of this ridiculous film and trick you into thinking that it must have been for something. Well, it wasn't. I have this sneaky feeling that the filmmakers' intention was not for me to root for Keller. And yes, I did root for him. And this is actually not just because Hugh Jackman plays him - so I automatically root for him - but if he hadn't take - under pretty good reasons - Alex captive then they wouldn't find the girl. Gyllenhaal only goes to the house at the end to notify the psycho aunt that Alex was found. So if Dover didn't capture Alex, Loki wouldn't be there to shoot the aunt just as she injects the kid with some sort of LSD crap. And at this point of the movie, I was hoping someone injected me with it too.

I also find the whole legal aspect of Dover's actions problematic, as it is talked about in the movie at least. In the end Maria Bello, who is laughably underused and her biggest contribution here is stroking Jackman's thigh early in the movie - so at least there is someone here who is relatable - says that her husband will go to jail and Gyllenhaal says probably. I really find it hard to believe that any judge would sentence - to actual time in jail - a man who was under extreme distress and who tortured someone who as it turns out knew where his abducted child was. And also let's not forget because of all of this Alex gets reunited with his parents at the end. Oh yeah, because it turns out Alex was abducted as a kid too. One third of the town is the perverts, another one third is the abducted and the rest are those wretched characters we are forced to watch.

Jesus, what a mess. I haven't even mentioned the snakes and the pig's head in the sink but you know what, life's too short.

And here's a little drinking game aka if you want to commit suicide by alcohol poisoning take a shot every time that:

1. Jackman looks at whoever is in the scene with him in complete disbelief
2. Jackman shouts that he KNOWS
3. Jackman shouts at Paul Dano to tell him where the kids are
4. Another sex offender is found in the town
5. The police does something seriously incompetent
6. The maze is shown
7. Paul Dano looks like he checked out and doesn't even know where he is anymore
8. A reference to religion is made
9.  Jackman kinda gives you hope maybe he will finally take his shirt off but he doesn't
10. The film gives you yet another red herring/suspect you immediately recognize for false lead
11. You guess the twist before the film reveals that twist
12. A scene goes on for far longer than necessary
13. Terrence Howard looks like he is about to start crying and stop living
14. and finally in case you are not drunk enough - Jake Gyllenhaal serves MEGA BLINK the audience's way


  1. Lol I love your rage even though I disagree with everything you said.

    Prisoners for liiiiiffffffeeeee!

  2. You're right on so many points, I don't know where to start. I just couldn't believe when this movie came out that people were comparing it to Seven. For me the dead giveaway of the ending was just Melissa's name being attached to the project. If she's involved, chances are, she's just not going to be a side character without any impact. I knew it was her all along, so the ending was sooo disappointing. Hugh & Jake are squarely what kept me interested at all. That rugged look Hugh has his one of his best, if not one of the best beard looks of film history.

    1. I love him with a beard <3 but the one in Logan was even more gorgeous. YES! The second Leo shows up as a strange, creepy character with old lady make up you instantly figure out she must have something to do with this and yet the film still wants to be this 'exciting mystery' movie when the audience constantly guesses the right answers before the filmmakers unveil them

  3. haha love how you make something good out of everything bad: definitely gonna try the drinking game!

    1. Be careful one may die just from drinking shots whenever Gyllenhaal blinks

  4. I love your passion against this movie! This was a one-time viewing for me. The ending was the only memorable part for me (memorable = only part I explicitly remember).

    1. yeah and it was only because of gimmick that the ending is memorable...it was well done but just riddled with script issues again. And the way he ended up in this ditch was just so very dumb

  5. I'm honestly not sure if I even watched Prisoners but I think I did but hardly remember anything about it. I was probably not paying enough attention which seemed like a good decision. But I do love Arrival, so sorry, I can't agree with that statement. :D Though I'm not a big fan of Adams, I just really liked that movie and its subject matters. Plus Renner is adorable!

    I don't know if I want to see this one again though, but I'm a bit curious to see where it goes wrong. Seems like everywhere but it would be interesting to watch it after reading this.. 20 paragraph rant. I wish I could sit down and write reviews like that. Like. Every week.

    1. I was slipping in and out of consciousness during Arrival but I remember Renner being one of the better things about it

      It literally took me 20 minutes to write this. It's such a maddening movie that I just sit down and didn't even have to think, the words just came. I spent the entire movie wondering about all those things 3 times so it was really easy to just rant all over it.

  6. Great takedown! I love the passion.

    Villeneuve seems to have a knack for picking projects that lend themselves to being picked apart. The all rely on plot twists, often alarming ones, yet, for me, each of his films has been better than the last. The major take I got from this post is that you don't like Arrival, which fascinated me from start to finish and culminated in one of the great emotional highs I had at the movies last year. This movie, while I agree it is stupid on some of the screenplay levels, is about atmosphere and suspense more than narrative acuity, like all of Villeneuve's films. That's why I forgive it and just let the score, cinematography, and Gyllenhaal's performance take over...and win. I am not one to care about specific details if the movie is working for me emotionally. Honestly, it's my downfall as a critic. I love everything.

    1. Yes, let's go with 'passion' :P

      The thing is that he made Enemy which has an amazing screenplay that has the level of ambiguity that masks any possible plot holes. This right here is supposed to be this crime mystery and procedural movie and it just falls apart in so many instances

  7. I saw the movie yesterday and I disagree pretty much on everything. But I could not believe Hugh actually asked for permission to enter the house. I saw the tools and I was expecting him to force his way in, but nope, that did not happen.

    But thank you, I loved reading this!

    1. Haha, glad you liked it! :) That moment was just so silly, at that point he is certain his little girl is there

  8. Thank GOD i'm not the only one who thinks this story is DUMB DUMB DUUUUMB!! I can put up with a fair share of silly things with the excuse of "well, its just a movie" but this movie makes glaring logical contradictions which just pulled me out of the whole experience.

    I'm surprised that this movie is so praised as if its actually a good mystery thriller movie, this movie is only saved by Jake&Hugh Jackman's great performances. Replace them with average actors and no one would call it a great movie! The things i could never get over are:-

    1) Police "Thoroughly Searches" the RV but NOT the damn house he lives in, what sense does that make?

    2) Police FINALLY "Searches" the now identified killer of 16+ children's residence and YET they ignore a suspicious looking muscle car and the underground(for days?) where all those 16+ children are buried and is only discovered because Jake just happens to listen to the whistle, IF police were THIS incompetent in real life, i'd consider become a Vigilante.

    3) HOW THE F*** could that Bob Tyler guy own a house and function in society but at the same be some mumbling retarded person who couldn't even speak!? WTF!?

    3) WHY THE HELL did Keller run away the Police instead of using their help? Police was practically on his side after the girl confirmed the kidnapper's house as Alex Jones's residence, he could've even gotten away with torturing alex jones and neither of them would've gotten shot by the old lady.

    4) If Keller was THAT confident that Alex was the kidnapper, WHY THE HELL did he not just invade the place he lives in!? THIS... this plot hole is migraine inducing. hell, what's even more puzzling is that he firmly believes that Alex kidnapped her, why isn't Holly also in the suspect list then!? Clearly, she's the brains of the operation!!

    This whole movie is 2 hours long because both the detective&father characters are STUPID characters who can't put 2&2 together! Screw this movie, it doesn't deserve to be on the same list as Seven or Dark Knight.

  9. Jake g enters hugh's character Dads house,and as he's nearing the torture room,the screen goes blank,next thing hugh is at the evil womans house,having I presume got an answer out of alex,so,how did he get past Jake??...2nd plot hole when joy said...you were there to hugh,what?When?And who was the mysterious woman who saved joy from the busy traffic?

  10. Let’s not forget to mention the mom whose daughter was just kidnapped but ends up sleeping the entire time of the movie! I don’t know about you but if my kid was missing I would not be sleeping! Just watched this last night and I have more questions than answers...

  11. Also one more thing... when joy is found and in the hospital she said “they put tape on my mouth” THEY!!! Who is they, which means to me that yes Alex did have something to do with it! If not joy would’ve said “SHE”

  12. I'm very late but I just saw the movie yesterday and aggree with everything that's written here. What an atrocious movie... Made me think of The Chaser, another detective story in which the characters and especially the cops are so stupid it ruins every atempt at creating a serious atmosphere... A joke.
    And yep, I also hated Arrival. I just don't understand all the hype surrounding Villeneuve. The guy can follow a recipe, but he is just not a good creator.

  13. Thank you for writing this! I dont know what was more insane, the incredible unrealistic writing or the fact that I had to search thru several good reviews of this movie before I found yours. Like did actors read the script. I have so many questions