Tag Archives: Paul Dano

Prisoners

Prisoners is an American thriller that tackles every parents worse nightmare and what horrors they are prepared to commit for the sake of their children.

After their daughters go missing during Thanksgiving, two families the Dovers (Hugh Jackman and Maria Bello) and the Birch (Terrance Howard and Viola Davis) are looking for answers. When Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) releases a suspect Alex (Paul Dano) due to lack of evidence, Keller Dover (Jackman) decides to take  the law into his own hands to find his missing daughter.

From the moment the girls goes missing the tension in Prisoners never lets up as we follow Detective Loki in his investigation and Keller as he conducts his own source of interrogation. The audience watches as Keller’s techniques to extract information from his prisoner escalates to the point that you’re not sure whose side you’re suppose to be on. The film doesn’t give you any easy answers instead posing a series of questions to its audience. If your child went missing what would you do to go them back? Would you resort to torture? Is Keller justified in what he’s doing? If Alex is guilty does that make Keller’s actions acceptable? Theres also the matter that Alex has the IQ of a ten-year old, so can he be held responsible for anything he may have done? It’s a tough watch, and although not particularly gory, there is some serious violence  and threat involved which makes for uncomfortable viewing.

The cast that has been assembled is incredible. However at times it feels like the female cast members are a bit wasted. Viola Davis at least gets a few meaty scenes to get her teeth into (and anyone who saw her stirling work in Doubt knows that she only needs one scene to grab everyone’s attention). Maria Bello fares less well, with her character mostly drugged out by grief for the majority of the movie.

The male cast fare better. Howard is great as the reluctant father pulled into Jackman’s schemes although his character does get sidelined as the film gets closer to the end. Dano is brilliant as main suspect Alex, able to turn from creepy, to vulnerable and childlike within the same scene. The standouts however are Gyllenhaal and Jackman. Both are men are desperate to find the girls using very different means. Jackman’s performance in particular is mesmerizing, both men deserve to be showered in awards come the Oscar season, whether Prisoners is too grim for the voting committee is another matter.

What makes Prisoners such a good  thriller is that is can raise these serious issues about morality and tell an engaging story at the same time. You are kept on edge the whole way through, hoping some kind of happy ending can be salvaged somehow among the darkness.

Rating- 4/5 -an uncompramising thriller about the horrors people do featuring fantastic performances from Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal.

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Ruby Sparks

In his review of Elizabethtown (http://www.avclub.com/articles/the-bataan-death-march-of-whimsy-case-file-1-eliza,15577/) Nathan Rabin describes Kristen’s Dunst’s character as the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. This is a kooky girl who only seems to be there so that she can shake the main character out of his brooding existence while being non-threatening and perky at all times.

And so we have Ruby Sparks directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (Little Miss Sunshine) and written by Zoe Kazan. Calvin (Paul Dano) is an author with a successful debut novel, unfortunately this was 10 years ago and he hasn’t written another book since. Struggling with writers block his therapist asks him to write a page about someone who likes his dog. Calvin eventually comes up with the character of Ruby Sparks (Zoe Kazan) an attractive, wacky artist who likes Calvin for all his quirks. Then Calvin finds Ruby in his flat, thinking she’s his girlfriend and no idea she’s a fictional character he created. Then he realises everyone else can see her too.

Ruby Sparks is about what happens a man’s ideal pixie girl comes to life. True to the trope she brings excitement to his dull life and loves him despite his faults. But rather than just settle for a simple indie rom-com as shown in the trailers for the film, Kazan shows us the darker drama that lies underneath the humour. Calvin has somehow created Ruby into life, and if he keeps writing he can control what she does, which brings up ethical dilemmas and a discussion about how to conduct a healthy, adult relationship. If you were Calvin would you be tempted to control how a person behaves? What if you could create the perfect girlfriend? And what if the Manic Pixie Dream Girl wants to grow up and have a life of her own away from the hero?

Paul Dano is great as the insecure Calvin, not afraid to show us how needy and controlling Calvin can be. The script by Kazan is witty and insightful. She is also great as Ruby with a strong acting range as Ruby goes from to hyper and over-enthusiastic to depressed and tearful due to Calvin’s writing. There is also great supporting cast from Chris Messina as Calvin’s brother Henry the only other person who knows Ruby is fictional, and Annette Bening and Antonio Banderas as Calvin’s hippy mum and stepfather.

The downside to this film is that it might not work for some people expecting a quirky rom-com and finding that it’s got a darker edge. The ending may also leave audiences divisive. But for me I enjoyed the mix of a light, comedic first half and a more thoughtful second half about the male ego and what happens when you only see women in an idealised way rather than as a real person.

4/5

A great deconstruction of the Manic Dream Pixie Girl and her ‘hero’.

 

 

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