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Prisoners | Ava

Kidnappings and contract killers.


MOVIE REVIEW // Prisoners

Movie summary: When Keller Dover's daughter and her friend go missing, he takes matters into his own hands as the police pursue multiple leads and the pressure mounts. (IMDb)

Prisoners reminds me of The Favourite in a sense, because so many pieces of the movie are truly outstanding but it still somehow feels less than the sum of its parts. Part of that is the lengthy running time for this film and part of it is just how little I connected with Hugh Jackman's character, Keller Dover - this despite Jackman putting in a phenomenal performance.

Let's get the length of the movie out of the way first, because I'm not against long movies at all and recently pointed out in my review of Zodiac how much I love it and Blade Runner 2049 despite their lengths - hell, I even have an 'Endgame Rule' about giving up on a piece of media if it can't keep me interested in the time it would take to watch Avengers: Endgame, which is 3 hours long.

The problem with Prisoners is I think partly on a script level and a failure to balance the story between Keller Dover and Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal, being as great as usual), meaning that rather than leaving either of the two men out of the movie for any great length of time that it feels like certain character beats are repeated just to maintain some kind of level playing field between the two.

I don't think it was really necessary either, as both Jackman and Gyllenhaal put in awards-worthy performances and not being on-screen for 20 minutes or so wasn't going to hurt either character. It does unfortunately mean that there are a couple of moments while watching the movie that made me wonder why we weren't getting anything new from a character perspective - an issue only exacerbated after it had finished and, looking back, made some scenes feel like a bit of a waste.

The other major issue is that Keller is such an unlikeable character that I really found it difficult to empathise with him and was actually hoping for some greater punishment for him thanks to his behaviour throughout. I don't want to spoil anything, but what happens to him really isn't harsh enough for his actions despite the potential possibility of future retribution - because we never get to see it!

I don't mind a villain protagonist, which I truly think Keller is, but the best characters that fit that role are usually those who embrace said villainy or those who receive some form of karmic penance for the evil acts they perpetrate as a form of catharsis for the audience. Keller fits neither and so, despite Jackman's excellence in portraying such an arsehole, it just feels a little unfair that we see someone commit horrible acts and don't get see the payback - this happens enough in real life, thank you very much.

I realise that's a lot of negativity, but this should be taken as a review of exceptions, because every other piece of Prisoners is wonderful - the cinematography is exceptional, especially some of the lighting in night-time scenes which are just otherworldly levels of good. And outside of the handful of 'repetitive' moments, it's a genuinely engrossing story that I absolutely wanted to see through to the finish.

Also, just to emphasise: Jackman and Gyllenhaal put on an acting masterclass here and if you only know Jackman as Wolverine/Logan, then please, please watch this and see just how talented the guy really is - I may have hated not getting to see Keller get his comeuppance, but that's only because Jackman is so bloody good at making me dislike the bastard.

Prisoners is a great movie with only the two big blots on its copybook - they're not enough to ruin the movie, but they certainly soured the experience for me. It really felt like this was going to join the likes of Zodiac or Blade Runner 2049 as a longer movie that I would enjoy watching again, but I now think that once is enough - I really don't want to spend so much time watching Keller Dover do what he does while knowing we won't see him punished for it.

Prisoners is a good movie, but it's a struggle to praise it as any more than that thanks to a lengthy runtime that doesn't feel earned, with the movie feeling like it's repeating itself at times. It's a gorgeous movie though, with some especially great night-time lighting; and the performances are top-notch too, with Jackman and Gyllenhaal dominating proceedings, even if the former is maybe a little too hard to empathise with.

[7/10 - Good]



Movie summary: Ava is a deadly assassin who works for a black ops organization, traveling the globe specializing in high profile hits. When a job goes dangerously wrong she is forced to fight for her own survival. (IMDb)

Ava is a bad movie. Do you want to know how bad? I really like Jessica Chastain as an actress, that she tends to be underrated and I'd like to see her in a lot more movies because I really like watching her perform. So, despite any bias, preference or inclination to go easy on the lead performer here, I can say for certain that Ava is, without a shadow of a doubt, a very, very poor film.

John Malkovich is about the only member of the cast who I think comes out of this film with any credit, although part of that may be due to my admiration of his capability for swearing so casually and yet with such conviction! There's also some nice shots at times, plus a couple of moments that hint at how good this movie could've been - there's a point very late on where Chastain is Terminator-like in hunting a target and, brief as it is, feels like how her character should've been throughout.

As for the bad? Pretty much everything else. There are times when Ava feels like the highest budget amateur movie I've ever seen, especially with regards to the action - not a good thing for an action movie. The choreography is poor, the execution even worse, and terrible editing does nothing to hide this either, instead almost drawing attention to how fake the fighting is, with pauses as actors wait for each other to get into position and clearly non-damaging attacks displayed for all to see.

It's not like the story's any better either, again continuing the amateur feel of the whole production with Ava being given a clichéd troubled background of drink and drugs addiction - lucky such serious problems did nothing to affect her looks, eh? - and family issues that feel straight out of a soap opera; Common must've wondered what he did wrong to go from John Wick: Chapter 2 to this mess.

Ava is not a good movie, with only John Malkovich, some occasional nice cinematography and a couple of moments of "what could've been" standing out from the otherwise scattershot, clichéd plot; badly-written characters; some really poor action choreography; and strange editing choices. How do you have a cast like this and make a film so bad?

[2/10 - Bad]



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