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Prisoners

Rush

September 26, 2013

Prisoners (***) R

Prisoners is one of those films that pulls off a rare feat by not only providing the requisite thrills that movie audiences expect but by also forcing the viewer to question their own perceptions of what they consider to be right and wrong. How far would one go to possibly save the life of a loved one and could a person who, under ordinary circumstances, is a law abiding citizen not give a thought to breaking the law when pushed to the limits? These are a few of the questions that Prisoners, an uncharacteristically atmospheric and intelligent, mainstream thriller that we’re seeing less and less of these days, brings to bear during its two and a half hour running time.

Hugh Jackman is Keller Dover, a working class Pennsylvanian, who along with his wife Grace (Maria Bello), teen son, Ralph (Dylan Minnette) and young daughter, Anna (Erin Gerasimovich) share an idyllic existence in their small town. The film opens with a symbolic shot of Keller and son killing a deer in the woods, which is obviously a foreshadowing of things to come. The Dovers then head over to a Thanksgiving celebration hosted by their neighbor, Franklin Birch (Terrence Howard) and his family, only to have the festivities disrupted when both Franklin and Keller’s daughters are abducted while walking back to the Dover family home to retrieve a whistle.

The obvious suspect is Alex Jones (Paul Dano), a mentally challenged adult who rides around all day in an RV and lives with his mother (Melissa Leo). Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal), a local detective who has been assigned to the kidnapping and who has never met a case that he could not solve, is frustrated after arresting Jones, only to see him go free due to lack of evidence. 

Jake Gyllenhaal & Hugh Jackman in Prisoners

When Dover hears of this, he decides to take the law into his own hands by kidnapping and torturing Jones in the hopes that Jones will reveal the whereabouts of the two girls under pressure. Dover soon comes to discover that things aren’t always black and white when dealing with a situation like this when another suspect comes into question. That’s just the tip of the iceberg and to reveal any more would be unthinkable.

Prisoners, even though it’s a tad overlong and with one subplot too many, is well directed by Dennis Villeneuve. He’s from Canada but this is his first English language pic after coming to prominence with such films as the foreign Oscar nominee, Incendies. Villeneuve does a wonderful job of  both crafting a sense of atmosphere and dropping nice symbolic touches, particularly of the religious variety (one character has the 1971 pop hit, Put Your Hand in the Hand, blasting from his radio, to cite one instance). Prisoners brings to mind the films of David Fincher (Zodiac, Seven), who is a master at this type of thing. I would say it’s the most Finchian (if that’s a word) film not made by Fincher himself. 

Prisoners is playing at the Carmike in Hickory and other area theaters. Questions or comments for Adam? filmfan1970@hotmail.com

Rush (***1/2) R

By JAKE COYLE

AP Film Writer

Maybe, just maybe, Ron Howard and screenwriter Peter Morgan are perfect opposites: one a swinging playboy, the other a cold calculator.

They have twice now collaborated on what you might call coin-flip films: movies about dueling, diametrically opposed forces. Their latest, the Formula One thriller Rush, is a lot like their Frost/Nixon, only on wheels.

Chris Hemsworth plays the English bounder James Hunt, a dashing head of blond hair whose daring-do and high-class accent turn women into mush. Daniel Bruhl plays Niki Lauda, an analytical Austrian with pointy front teeth and a complete dearth of what you might call people skills.

Whereas Hunt is a classic, carousing, big-ego racer, Lauda is a methodical tactician. The film, based on the lives of the two famous racers, captures the climax of their collision in the 1976 world championship that came down to the final race and that also featured a crash that left Lauda’s face terribly burned.

Just as Frost/Nixon marveled at the contrast of flashy TV newsman David Frost and the curmudgeonly Richard Nixon, Rush (also set in the `70s) toggles between Hunt and Lauda. Howard’s film is propelled by the clash of styles that repels them from one another, even as their mutual dedication draws them closer.

Chris Hemsworth & Daniel Bruhl

Racing films often speed inevitably toward cliches of fast-paced living catching up to the men behind the wheel. Rush has plenty of that—the adrenaline-fueled death dance required for the checkered flag. (Hunt describes his car as ``a little coffin, really, surrounded by high-octane fuel.’’) But it veers away toward something much sweeter: a simple ode to rivalry.

While Rush has plenty of exciting, highly saturated racing scenes as it makes pit stops through famous Formula One courses, Howard (whose directorial debut, 1977’s Grand Theft Auto, was a far less accomplished tale of car chases) is more concerned with the personality conflict, played out at high speed.

Without Thor’s hammer in tow, Hemsworth looks particularly unburdened in a role perfectly suited to his talents and natural bravado. Bruhl, though, is even more compelling. The German-born actor (who also makes a strong impression in the upcoming WikiLeaks drama The Fifth Estate), makes Lauda, with a clipped Austrian accent, endearing in his obsessive pursuit.

Howard, with cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle, frames both actors in close-up, letting the ping pong of their competition fill the movie. There are other good supporting performances (Olivia Wilde, Alexandra Maria Lara as the drivers’ wives), but the film belongs to Hemsworth and Bruhl as they weave through a tumultuous racing season.

It’s not only one of the better racing films, it’s one of Howard’s best. For Morgan, who also penned another distinct sports film, 2009’s The Damned United, it’s yet another example of his great talent for taking seemingly minor true stories and expanding them operatically.

Whatever the nature of Howard and Morgan’s collaboration, it seems to be pushing them—like Hunt and Lauda—to greater heights.

Rush opens Friday, September 27, at the Carmike in Hickory and other area theaters.

 

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