Catherine Hardwick’s indie-style filming of her latest film, The Prisoner’s Daughter, elevates the plot from a tired tale to slow-burn and engaging. Her stars, Kate Beckinsale and Brian Cox, create connectable characters that warrant our attention. Although the storyline is hardly fresh, Hardwick’s keen eye and naturalistic style make it engaging. Hardwick shows Vegas’s more gritty and unglamorous side, choosing starker locations and revealing the underbelly behind the flashy lights, big hotels, and slot machines.
Maxine (Beckinsale), a single mom trying to make ends meet in Vegas, works hard to care for her epileptic son, Ezra (Christopher Convery). The boy’s dad, Tyler (Tyson Ritter), is a loser, trouble-making druggie, and she can barely pay the bills or buy Ezra’s medication. When her dying father calls from prison, saying he’s been awarded a compassionate release if he can live with her, she instantly rejects the idea, but desperation forces her hand. Max (Cox) arrives, and despite a white lie, he discovers Max is his grandfather.
Beckinsale is hardly recognizable as Maxine, and she embodies a mother pushed to her limits and made bitter by her life and circumstances. Her performance demonstrates her ability to morph into characters like a chameleon. Cox’s subtly intense performance is poignant as he reveals the regret and humanity in a man who’s relied on his fists for too long. The interaction between the two demonstrates their talent and Hardwick’s ability to blend resentment with revelations and bitterness with warmth. Ezra (Convery) helps greatly as he navigates the relationships and deals with his own issues at school. These characters feel real. Even the lesser roles, like Ernie Hudson as Hank, Max’s old boxing friend, and Ritter, are made extremely relevant to the story’s themes.
Mark Bacci’s script is hardly the stuff of the Oscars. We’ve seen it all before, and better written, but this cast and Hardwick are brilliant. Beckinsale and Cox deserve accolades for their performances, and I believe we will see them on awards lists. The Prisoner’s Daughter is not a film for everyone, but it does demonstrate what a solid cast and a talented director can do to a mediocre predictable story. I am putting 3 stars up top, even though the stars deserve better.