TIFF Gala Presentations Section
Reviewed for Shockya.com by Abe Friedtanzer
Director: Catherine Hardwicke
Writer: Mark Bacci
Cast: Kate Beckinsale, Brian Cox, Christopher Convery, Tyson Ritter, Jon Huertas
Screened at: Scotiabank Theatre, Ontario, 9/15/22
Opens: September 14th, 2022 (Toronto International Film Festival)
An older man, no longer the same hardened criminal he once was, is released from prison. He attempts to reconnect with the adult daughter who wants nothing to do with him, and yearns to form a relationship with a grandchildwho doesn’t even know him. This premise has been explored many times before, and usually leads to one of two possible endings: the successful redemption of that protagonist or the inevitability of their regression. Prisoner’s Daughter offers a less than fresh take, one that feels entirely formulaic.
Max (Brian Cox) has been in prison for twelve years and, upon receiving a pancreatic cancer diagnosis, is offered to serve out his sentence under house arrest, provided his daughter, Maxine (Kate Beckinsale), is willing to take responsibility for him. After initially refusing to consider his request, Maxine gives in because she desperately needs money to cover her twelve-year-old son Ezra’s (Christopher Convery) epilepsy medication. Max’s presence changes things for Maxine, who tells her father not to reveal to his grandson who he really is, as she struggles to hold down a job and keep Ezra away from his drug-addicted bad influence father Tyler (Tyson Ritter).
Prisoner’s Daughter comes from director Catherine Hardwicke, who has previously proven herself tremendously capable of engaging with difficult teenage characters in Thirteen nearly two decades ago. Ezra, who comes off as extremely precocious, correcting his mother’s grammar and interrogating Max immediately upon meeting him, does have issues at school with bullies, but he’s the one who has the least to worry about among his family members. Like the adults, however, he doesn’t feel all that genuine, and the coincidence of him dealing with an increasingly violent bully at the same time that his former boxer convict grandfather shows up feels a bit too convenient.
There is also a morality problem at play in this film. Maxine can’t stand the idea of seeing her father because she remembers him as an enforcer, someone who hurt people in the service of others. Yet Max, for all his apparent enlightenment and the network he has built of people willing to do anything for him because he didn’t talk when he went to prison, does teach his grandson that the best way to respond to violence is with more violence. Maxine has a similar attitude, at first questioning why Ezra doesn’t run away from bullies and then taking pride in his ability to defend himself. Tyler is supposed to be the bad example, but it’s not as if the other authority figures in Ezra’s life are all that much more honorable.
Beckinsale, who anchored a different kind of drama in Nothing but the Truth and headlined last year’s action film Jolt, plays Maxine as a frazzled, overworked provider who can’t get anyone to understand how much she does and how little credit she gets. It’s a fine performance but doesn’t add much to an unwritten character. Cox, who is now best known for his portrayal of cruel patriarch Logan Roy on Succession, tones down his intensity for a more sensitive and ultimately less fulfilling turn. Convery shows some promise, but it’s hard for him to make the dialogue that Ezra utters sound like it’s actually coming out of a twelve-year-old’s mouth. These people could exist but they don’t quite feel real. The victories and obstacles that they experience are expected and not as emphatic as they are intended, and the film doesn’t quite earn its ending, which also feels too simplistic, a grand notion that just doesn’t track as authentic.
Story – C+
Acting – B-
Technical – B-
Overall – C+