Commentary

September 20, 2013

Fly Over: ‘Prisoners’, and ‘Don Jon’

prisoners

In theaters: ‘Prisoners’

Director Denis Villeneuve (“Incendies”) embarking on his first major Hollywood film after years as an independent filmmaker wrote a letter to the audience humbly expressing his reservations about working with big film producers, but assured the audience that if the film was a flop it was entirely on him. Well sir, you have nothing to be sorry for.
Hugh Jackman stars as Keller Dover, a religious father of two, survivalist and under-employed carpenter who takes his family to have a Thanksgiving dinner at the Birch home (Terence Howard as Franklin and Viola Davis as Nancy). It’s a typical evening as the adults engage in a few drinks, the teenagers lounge around the T.V. and the two young girls play. That is until they realize the two girls Anna (Erin Gerasimovich) and Joy (Kyla Drew Simmons) are missing. A frantic search turns up nothing, and the local law enforcement is alerted.
It doesn’t take long for detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) and the police to apprehend Alex (Paul Dano). The greasy haired, bespectacled dimwit is sitting in his creeper RV – the two girls played on it earlier, and it’s the reason Alex was sought – and bungles an escape before he’s brought in and interrogated. Unfortunately for Loki, and the families, Alex has the IQ of a 10-year-old and communication skills of a feral child. They can only detain him for 48 hours due to a lack of evidence, but Keller is convinced he’s the guy and after a parking-lot encounter his belief is only intensified.
Keller thinks the police aren’t doing enough, and takes matters into his own hands. He kidnaps Alex and proceeds to torture him in an attempt to find his daughter. But, Alex doesn’t talk or perhaps simply doesn’t know. Herein lies the moral conflict, for some. If every part of your being is telling you this guy knows where your daughter is, what would you do? Does the means (torture) justify the end?
“Prisoners” isn’t your typical revenge thriller. It’s more gut-wrenching and keeps the audience in a constant state of tension for two and a half hours. It’s mentally engaging, and there are so many twists and turns that it’s impossible for the audience to lose interest or not care. The film is beautifully shot – dark, rainy and rustically setting the tone and adding to the feeling of impending doom. The dreary little Pennsylvania town is itself a central character.
However, it’s the performances by Jackman, Gyllenhaal and the many other characters – Melissa Leo as Alex’s aunt is terrifyingly good – that makes this such a great film. Jackman’s primal rage and manliness makes Wolverine look like a puppy dog, and Gyllenhaal has come along way from his days as Bubble Boy portraying a detective with the weight of the town on his shoulders. Thus far, this is the surprise film of the year. Simply powerful, forcing half the audience to tears as the rest gasped for air scene after scene.
“Prisoners” is incredibly complex as it forces the viewers to question themselves. What is the tipping point where the law, societal norms and religion fall by the wayside? How far would a person really go to save their child? You may think you have the answer. Watch “Prisoners” and see if you still feel the same.
This film is rated R for disturbing violent content including torture, and language throughout.

 

Don-Jon

‘Don Jon’

Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s directorial debut “Don Jon” is certainly not appropriate for everyone and by everyone that means anyone who isn’t an 18-to-30-year-old male should probably find something better to do with their weekend. And if you’re looking for a date movie, certainly stay clear of this film unless it’s a bro date.
Levitt stars as Jon Martello, a Jersey-shore Guido addicted to pornography who only cares about a few things in life – his body, pad, car, family, girls, church and porn, mostly porn. It sounds an awful lot like an extended version of GTL. When we first meet Jon he’s portrayed as an over-the-top Jersey boy meathead. This caricature goes about his day in the gym, watching porn and hitting the club with his buddies where he famously has a streak of taking home a lady every night, hence the nickname his buddies bequeath him – Don.
The whole time Levitt’s voiceover explains his predicament, he enjoys porn more than he enjoys being with an actual woman. According to Jon, he can get lost in porn but as he describes it being with a living, breathing human being can be more work than it’s worth. However, things change when he meets Barbara (Scarlett Johansson) at the club – she actually succeeds in not going home with him.
The film becomes a little less ridiculous as the relationship plays out. Again, the stereotypes are a bit abrasive, but the two have chemistry. She catches him watching porn and is horrified. He promises to stop, but doesn’t. And, of course he’s caught again. But during the relationship we’re introduced to Jon’s family, which I presume would be an affront to most Italian Americans, but it’s funny – especially Tony Danza as Jon Jr.
Eventually, Jon messes everything up – always remember to delete your browsing history. But while Jon and Barbara were dating she convinced him to attend night classes – she wasn’t too fond of dating someone in the service industry – and he meets a middle aged woman (Julianne Moore) who thankfully isn’t from the shore. Moore provides the only real sense of believability as a sympathetic albeit slightly sexually devious widow who provides Jon real advice on how to be with a woman.
The film deals with a real issue in pornographic addiction but ultimately it’s a bit too blunt showing Levitt in various self-love situations as the screen flashes too often to clips of pornography – it’s redundant and often uncomfortable. Jon, with the help of Moore’s character, learns that sex is an act between two people and that by caring you can actually get lost in another person. Though everything about the film is slightly ridiculous it touches on an issue that may become more prevalent in a day and age where access to computers is more readily available for youths and the reality of sexual relationships is skewed. As Moore explains to Jon, that’s not real sex and the dimwit’s head exploded with revelation.
“Don Jon” is a disappointment. There are some big laughs, but ultimately it’s all over the place. Levitt wrote, directed and stars in the film. He’s obviously talented, so the presumption is it’ll only get better from here. But this film isn’t worth the price of admission.
“Don Jon” opens in theaters Sept. 27, and is rated R for strong graphic sexual material and dialogue throughout, nudity, language and some drug use.




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