(Written by Intern, Wyatt Frantz)
No family is perfect. We may all be able to recall a time where we wished we had it easier growing up, hoping that our problems would disappear at the drop of a hat. Our generation thankfully tends to stress the importance of emotional intelligence, leading many of us to realize how our past tends to follow us into adulthood. For parents with the added responsibility of caring for a child: how does one put a stop to the trickling trauma? Many shy away at the question of coming to terms with their past, but Prisoner’s Daughter shows us that even if it scares us, there is a hidden peace that comes with doing so.
Prisoner’s Daughter introduces us to Max (Brian Cox), a prisoner who has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. Under good behavior, he is offered to live out the rest of his days under house arrest with his daughter, Maxine (Kate Beckinsale), a hard-working mother who struggles to make ends meet. After Max recites the parole officer’s deal to Maxine, she pushes back at first, but allows her father to stay on the condition that he offers financial means. Maxine’s protective tendencies and aversion to her father makes a much-needed connection between Max and her son, Ezra (Christopher Convery), difficult. The same can be said between Ezra and his distant father, Tyler (Tyson Ritter), a drug-addicted drummer with hyper-aggressive tendencies. It takes a prolonged visit from Max and a medical emergency until Ezra even learns that Max is his grandfather in the first place. As Max lives out his final days with his estranged family, they uncover their turbulent history with Ezra, and help to heal each other emotionally, all while dealing with their modern family hardships head on.
Most of our time with Maxine’s family is spent in the one place that she tells her son he should be thankful for: the roof over their heads. The semi-contained nature of the setting asks for an interesting character dynamic for the film to be successful. In Prisoner’s Daughter, there is enough conflict rooted in the characters and enough tension in their performances to make the 100-minute runtime feel rich. Despite this, there are times where some exceptionally idiosyncratic character traits made me question how believable the family structure really is. I found myself pondering about Maxine’s humanity, given how much of a closed door she is to her family. I also cringed at some of Ezra’s dialogue that is especially intelligent for his age—although admittedly, his successful performance and likable persona as a preteen trying to make sense of his dysfunctional family mostly makes up for this. Despite some isolated moments that make me question the film’s realism, everything written is at least understandable, and proves to serve some sort of purpose in the end, even if it is not the most enticing script.
This film’s largest strength lies in how it calls an intergenerational cycle of violence into question, though it was only mentioned in a single line of dialogue. For such a humanitarian subject matter, I am surprised that we don’t see it covered in more films, but I am happy that Prisoner’s Daughter manages to step up to the plate. And what a better opportunity to do so than in a film set in rural Las Vegas with three disconnected generations living under the same roof? The premise and setting synergize with each other well enough to spotlight how such violence would affect real people from the ground up. Kate Beckinsale’s performance as Maxine gives a bold answer to what such a person might look like, as she fights for her son’s safety in multiple ways. Although the overly-restrained nature of her character keeps her from showing it often, Beckinsale shines when one sees her character’s past uproot itself. This brings the audience to an eye-opening realization that escaping the cycle can prove to be harder than living through it.
While the film is intelligent enough to call such heavy, traumatic subject matters into question, I did not find myself as emotionally invested as expected. More polished and grounded writing that leaves more room for emotional catharsis in our characters could have led to a more captivating watch experience. Even if it is not groundbreaking, Prisoner’s Daughter definitely has its fruitful moments. Watching Ezra uncover his underlying strength through boxing proves itself to be poetic, and the surprisingly clever third act left me raising my eyebrows. Although the screenplay evidently holds itself back from the potential that lies in its premise, the story construction makes Prisoner’s Daughter feel much more palpable. I felt somewhat touched by the end, and at least, cared for what the film had to say.
Bolt from behind the bars when Prisoner’s Daughter makes its limited theatrical run starting June 30.