PRISONER’S DAUGHTER (TIFF 2022) – Review by Ulkar Alakbarova

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When you read the synopsis about a man who is being released from prison on grounds of compassion, you think it’s going to be another action film in which an elderly man must fight his past enemies. It is the first thing that comes to a mind once you hear about Prisoner’s Daughter. However, the moment the film starts, it takes a different turn, a surprising one, which has quite rarely happened in the recent history of cinema.

Max (Brian Cox) has spent the last 12 years of his life in prison. Finally, this time he’s good to go, because of terminal illness. The trick is, he will be set free if his daughter, Maxine (Kate Beckinsale) lets him stay with her. At first, she rejects his ask, but because of financial difficulties and not being able to provide for her son Ezra (Christopher Convery), the single mother gives the green light. But the moment he enters her house, everything changes. The man she once knew is changed. Now he is willing to provide her support and regain her trust and love, before he departs this world. Things gets complicated with Ezra’s father, Tyler (Tyson Ritter), who threatens to destroy the family.

Screenplay by Mark Bacci and directed by Catherine Hardwicke, Prisoner’s Daughter is a feel good story with an element of drama and a bit of action. It’s a story of an old man who has months left to live and a single mother, who barely makes enough money to provide for her son. And Ezra, who is a sharp young boy but does not know how to fight back at school when he’s bullied. It seems the film offers a standard story from where you can extract all the outcomes that you already know may happen. But what I liked in Catherine Hardwicke’s approach was that her focus was not just on the violent Tyler, or how bad a father Max was. It provides a different insight into the adult daughter and the troubled father’s relationship who try to reconcile for the last time.

The moment when he brings her money is powerful. Yes, Maxine does not want to accept the generous offer from her father, believing the money is dirty, but the man convinces her saying, “trust me, they are clean as they can get.” And he was right. The more we learn about his past, the more we realize – he is not that bad at all. The surprise he prepares for his daughter and grandson is touching. This is what a parent normally does – a parent that realizes it’s never too late to be present in their child’s life. Then, we meet Tyler, the opposite of what Max is. Tyler is a drug addict, violent and has a bad temper. Ezra loves his father and demands his mother to let him see his father. He is just a child and does not realize the magnitude of danger and chaos that man can bring to his life. Maxine fails to explain to him that. But Max steps in to set the record straight.

I quite enjoyed watching Prisoner’s Daughter. Writing, direction and the performances were on a solid level, that brings chills sometimes to your bones. Few scenes were truly inspiring. Some will make you cry. But that’s not because it forces you to connect with the characters. It’s just because you connect with them unknowingly, sympathizing with them and cheer them going forward. Brian Cox is a pleasure to watch. No doubt about that. Kate Beckinsale was able to portray a poor woman that is at the bottom of her life but tries to climb up once the opportunity comes. And that is what a parent does. Sometimes one pulls you down to the edge of the cliff, while another one becomes a savior. You will get three combinations, one of each, trust me, in a very compelling way.

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Ulkar Alakbarova

Ulkar Alakbarova has been writing about movies since childhood. She loves black-and-white cinema. She worked as an independent film journalist in Azerbaijan. Starting in 2013, she has worked as a Toronto-based film critic/interviewer. She is a founder of and regularly covers major film festivals, such as TIFF, Fantasia Film Festival, Tribeca Film Festival, New York Film Festival, Hot Docs and Sundance.