Prisoners


Viewed – 29 September 2018  Netflix

I’d heard good things about this 2013 thriller but had not got around to watching until last night.  Starring two actors I always enjoy, Hugh Jackman and especially Jake Gyllenhaal … this looked like essential viewing from the very moment I’d heard about it.  Telling the story of two suburban families who’s young daughters go missing one day, this follows the ensuing investigation that doesn’t bring many leads, causing Jackman’s father to take the law into his own hands.  He decides to abduct the number one suspect and beat out some answers, whilst at the same time the detective in charge of the case, Gyllenhaal attempts to unravel and mystery.

Prisoners

Directed by the acclaimed Denis Villeneuve (Sicario, Blade Runner 2049) this is a taught and hard-hitting with above average performances not only from the leads but also Maria Bello.  Unlike similar missing persons movies this raises questions of what’s right and wrong, although never did I not understand the desperation and pain experienced by the worried parents.  With echoes of movies like (the underrated) Death Sentence and Zodiac, the gradually complex investigation is delivered with no end of tension, twists and turns.  It kept this viewer guessing throughout and even if the final reveal is a little too neat, I was still left satisfied.

It’s a lengthy movie but never slow or stretched out and kept me gripped.  A few questions are left unanswered at the end, with a mystery considering a character’s obsession with mazes left up in the air.  But this was still solid entertainment with atmospheric direction and a stunning turn from Jackman making him one of the best working today.  And to think I came to this for Gyllenhaal who whilst very good is left overshadowed.

Verdict: 4 /5

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Lights Out


Viewed – 08 September 2016  Cinema

I was certainly intrigued by this concept.  A malevolent spirit that disappears in direct light but is deadly in the dark, who seems to be haunting a small family, that of a single mother and her little boy.  When said boy turns to his older, rebellious sister for help after one too many strange goings on, soon an investigation ensues … subsequently causing the family to look into their own past in the process.

lights-out

Whilst fairly simple in it’s idea I did find this pretty unnerving throughout what with an evil spirit seemingly capable of jumping out from any darkened corner or darkened room.  The maker’s had a field-day with this idea and I certainly got a kick out of the various ways the idea was explored, complete with an effective ‘shooting at the ghost’ sequence.  However the frights don’t exactly come thick and fast and rely a little too much on loud noises and character reactions more than being scary in their own right … which they are but the other stuff dilutes the experience somewhat.  Also I wasn’t keen on the occasional times the spirit spoke … again diluting the scariness by giving it too much character (the remake of ‘Ring’ had a similar misstep).

The casting is pretty decent, although only Maria Bello is recognisable but suitably unhinged as the troubled mother.  I also thought the young actor playing the boy was above average.  Add to this a complex turn from Teresa Palmer who manages to be more than a typical, moody twenty-something.  The final act is also solid and full of action with some novel twists on the concept.  But I did hope for a bit more light to be shed on the spirit’s origins, which sadly is ignored in place of a rather ballsy ending.  So despite good intentions, this doesn’t quite reinvent the horror movie and is a bit too Hollywood with some of its scares … but regardless this was still a suitably creepy and entertaining experience.

Verdict:  3 /5

Payback


Director’s Cut vs Theatrical Version

I have a love / hate relationship with director’s cuts.  Often it seems I prefer the original of which I have become used to, and more often than not, any tinkering adds very little to the movie (ahem, Blade Runner), even to the point of ruining it (The Frighteners, anyone?)  Now Payback is definitely a different beast.  The original theatrical version plays out as a clever, mean and dirty revenge movie with bags of personality and energy to spare.  I loved it, but haven’t seen it in ages.  Last night I sat down to watch this new Director’s Cut, with hype surrounding it as a completely new movie compared to what was previously released. 

Payback

Mel Gibson is Porter, a hard-as-nails career crim who is double crossed by his partner in crime and left shy of 70 grand.  Now he is back in town and wants what he’s owed.  This simple set up lays the ingredients for a back-to-basics thriller, very much in that 70s cop movie vibe, and Gibson is joined by a quality cast, especially the always gorgeous Maria Bello, and the brilliant Lucy Liu.  I recall loving the one dimensional intensity of Gibson’s character, his charm and sly wit even when up against impossible odds – you route for him even though he’s despicable.  He’s just cool.

Now when comparing this to the theatrical version, we have a leaner, meaner cut, that although now showing Gibson knocking Deborah Kara Unger senseless and killing a heavy in cold blood, actually seems tamer in comparison.  We also get an entirely different third act, that lacks much of the ‘yes!’ climax of the original and excises Kris Kristofferson completely.  Perhaps fitting with the 70s vibe, the formerly blue tint to the movie has been replaced with a raw, gritty and vibrant colour palette, which gives the movie a new lease of life.

I’ll say I prefer the original overall as the missing scenes here do add a great deal, as did the voice over that is also gone – it just felt like a more fleshed out experience.  Yet I applaude what director Brian Helgeland was going for and think the new version is just as good – for different reasons.

The Blu-ray can’t be faulted mostly as its jam-packed with features, including a short documentary on the creation of the new cut, an audio commentary on the new cut, and behind the scenes featurettes to fill out the package.  The new look to the director’s cut impresses most, but both versions (as is presented here) are in great shape, with equally punchy Dolby True HD soundtracks.

Verdicts

(Director’s Cut):  4 /5

(Theatrical Version):  4 /5