While his previous film, “Incendies”, was about how people silently deal with the damage from atrocities committed against them, Denis Villeneuve’s latest film, “Prisoners,” is a study in what pushes people over the edge to commit evil acts. Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) is not one to suffer in silence, so when his daughter goes missing, he kidnaps and tortures the man he believes is responsible. We are never really sure he’s right, and neither is he. The local detective (Jake Gyllenhaal) is the only one detached enough to think rationally and follow the breadcrumbs, though we never get to know him well; his twitchy eye stands in for a personality. Shot by the great cinematographer Roger Deakins, this is a film you experience viscerally: the violence is palpable, it’s always cold and rainy – the water on the lens blurs the image -, and you empathize with Keller while watching him become the thing he hates most. But it is heavy-handed — Keller is not-so-coincidentally a carpenter, and the constant presence of crosses reminds us he is meant as something of a Christ figure. Unfortunately, the film takes too many seemingly unrelated tangents that you can put the pieces together almost too easily.
Much like “Prisoners”, the reason to see “Rush” is the exquisite cinematography by Anthony Dod Mantle, which ensures that the high stakes car racing has the same invigorating effect on the audience as it does on the two drivers. We watch the pistons fire as the cars ready to race and the sweat on the drivers’ tightly shot faces when it gets intense; you’ve never seen car racing like this before. Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl, in his first major English-speaking part) and James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) start out hating each other in the early 1970s — Niki is abrasive and arrogant while James is too irresponsible and overtly charming – but as the rivalry fuels their ambition, it slowly deepens into a great respect. What drives these two men to risk their lives day after day to be the fastest drivers? It’s a mixture of ambition, daring, and self-absorption: it’s fitting if frustrating that their marriages are more about arm candy than a mature relationship. As complicated as these two men are, they are still archetypes stuck in the 1970s, uttering aphorisms, which keeps the film from being a truly great one.
Writer-director Nicole Holofcener has made her name with dialogue-driven female-centric films, like “Walking and Talking” and “Please Give”, that are by no means chick flicks. Over the years, the characters in her films have aged and matured, at pace with her own aging, and that of the frequent star of her films, Catherine Keener. In Holofcener’s very funny and moving “Enough Said”, Keener plays Marianne, a sophisticated, divorced, and self-centered poetess; she lives in a the sort of dream home you see in magazines and pals around with Joni Mitchell. Julia Louis-Dreyfus stars as Eva, another divorced woman and mother, whose daughter, like Marianne’s, is about to leave the nest for university, and she’s feeling lonely. Marianne desperately needs to cling to someone and Eva needs to feel needed, so when Eva starts working as her massage therapist, they become friends, if somewhat toxic and adolescent ones. Eva also starts dating Albert (James Gandolfini), whom she starts to fall in love with, in spite of his gut, until Marianne starts poisoning the well: Eva learns he’s the ex-husband Marianne has been bad-mouthing, and Eva’s insecurities and desire for Marianne’s approval threaten to jeopardize her budding relationship.The film starts out with a non-stop succession of realistic yet funny encounters or witty one-liners — the characters are intelligent but not hyper-intellectuals — but as they slowly fall into their own traps, the film becomes equally moving and heartbreaking. Holofcener strikes the perfect balance of finding the comedy in mid-life troubles without exploiting or making light of them, or being too bleak, and in so doing creates a very realistic portrait of a group of adults on the brink of major changes.