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Prisoner’s Daughter

By Michael Talbot-Haynes | July 4, 2023

NOW IN THEATERS! The great indie boomerang has brought another great director back to where it all began in the gritty drama Prisoner’s Daughter, directed by Catherine Hardwicke. The film, written by Mark Bacci, follows a former prizefighter named Max (Brian Cox), who is behind bars for horrible things he did for the mob while using. He finds out he is dying of pancreatic cancer, so the prison’s considering letting him serve the rest of his time under hospice house arrest. Max just needs to convince his daughter Maxine (Kate Beckinsale) to take him in.

Maxine’s life keeps smashing into asphalt, largely thanks to Max. She is so desperate she has to cut in half the pills that keep her kid, Ezra (Christopher Convery), from having seizures. Maxine has to raise him alone as his father, Tyler (Tyson Ritter), is a drug-addict musician living in a homeless squat with other narcotic enthusiasts. When he has a dope-fueled outburst at Maxine’s job and gets her fired, she is looking at a fast-approaching brick wall.

That is when Max calls from prison with the big news. The whole thing seems like a s**t sandwich to Maxine, but with nothing to eat and being offered financial help, she agrees. However, since she told Ezra that her father died years ago, Max has to pretend to be Maxine’s “uncle.” The kid is having a tough time, getting beaten up regularly by Dennis (Cooper Nelson) and his gang because they don’t like his seizures. So it makes sense when Ezra asks the mysterious Uncle Max if he knows anything about fighting.

With Prisoner’s Daughter, Hardwicke delivers her edgiest movie since her groundbreaking indie debut 20 years ago. Like that film, this highlights the perpetual struggles of American families headed by single moms. We don’t see this enough in cinema, as daily survival for many involves a constant reality of ends never meeting. The excellent screenplay illuminates the endless pressure points these families endure with an iron spine. Something that rings this true is usually drawn from real life, and if it wasn’t, I was totally fooled.

“…dying of pancreatic cancer, so the prison’s considering letting him serve the rest of his time under hospice house arrest.”

It also looks very real, thanks to the production design work of Pele Kudren and the set decoration by Limenea Crabtree. The verisimilitude of the decor of the drowning class is astonishing, with everything peeling in the right direction. The surreal graffiti jungle of the father’s squat will summon reverberations of the now classic look of Hardwicke’s Lords of Dogtown. If, like me, you were thrilled by Hardwicke’s work in the indie sphere, let it be known that everything you liked back then is back.

Beckinsale’s abilities as an actress should never be underestimated. Her master turn throughout Prisoner’s Daughter shows a genuine nervous system of chronic frustration dipped in shining chrome. Each move is real but calculated for maximum response from the audience. Her intensity has the same impact one gets from the work of director Samuel Fuller: real and relentless. Cox once again shows us the kind of hard sorcery he delivers dependably. He is perfect as Max. Like many of his roles, you are teetering on a rickety bridge of his kindness over an endless black sea of ruthlessness.

Convery kicks a*s and comes off like a real kid, whereas others would have disappeared in a cloud of cuteness. We also have the pleasure of the great Ernie Hudson in a key supporting role as Hank, the gym owner who owes Max. Hudson brings that warm wave of familiarity beloved character actors exude.

Hardwicke gets her players to all dance on the lip of doom to the beat, and it is fantastic. Prisoner’s Daughter is a drama that stings hard but also unleashes a lot of hope. It is a splendid reason to be excited about the great American indie again.

Prisoner's Daughter (2023)

Directed: Catherine Hardwicke

Written: Mark Bacci

Starring: Brian Cox, Kate Beckinsale, Christopher Convery, Tyson Ritter, Ernie Hudson, Cooper Nelson, etc.

Movie score: 8.5/10

Prisoner's Daughter Image

"…a splendid reason to be excited about the great American indie..."

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