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New release movie reviews - October 18
PRISONERS ****1/2 (153 minutes) MA
During a pleasant Thanksgiving lunch in small-town working-class suburbia, two little girls are abducted in broad daylight.
That's the straightforward premise for a gruelling, gripping story of anger, loss, justice and the hunger for hope.
The parents are naturally frantic as the stress of the search presses on them like a giant corkscrew, but while there are plenty of high-end emotions coursing through this splendid, solid, engrossing crime drama, it's the many smaller, quieter moments that scream loudest about every parent's most dreaded nightmare.
Canadian director Denis Villeneuve - whose mastery of powerful dramas was in full flourish in 2011's remarkable Incendies - draws great performances from a top-drawer ensemble.
Jake Gyllenhaal is all eyebrows and angst as the dedicated cop; Paul Dano is unnerving as the mentally deficient suspect; Terrence Howard (Hustle & Flow) hits a career high as one of the fathers; as the mothers, Maria Bello and Viola Davis (The Help) capture the unending torture of trying to cope with such open-ended trauma.
But, when all is said, this is Hugh Jackman's film.
As the frustrated, financially strapped father, he goes from blurting out his rage to channelling it in the most frightening way when he does not get the answers he wants from the police about where the girls are.
Jackman was terrific in Les Miserables; with his Wolverine franchise he proved his smarts by making us care about a second-tier superhero. Yet those films were well within his established wheelhouse. Here, Jackman proves his chops as a meaty dramatic actor capable of handling hard emotions and tough scenes.
Given the hot-blooded, hot-button nature of its story, and the propensity of directors these days to cut cut cut, it takes a lot for a film to step back from the obvious, bide its time and unravel slowly.
Prisoners does that; it's like a coiled spring of tension that gets tighter and tigher until the film's brilliantly handled final moments. Rarely does a film grant audiences the intelligence to intuitively understand the subtleties of storytelling, and then reward them with jaw-dropping payoffs.
Easily one of the films of the year - and what a great year for films it has turned out to be - Prisoners is so carefully nuanced that a second viewing reveals just how deftly the story is unfurled. It's definitely an example of a film that gains with a repeat visit.
And if there is one thing above all else to recommend Prisoners, it's the way it captures that white-hot skewer of fear that must run through the heart and mind of every parent who has ever suddenly looked around them and thought, "where's my kid?"
MYSTERY ROAD ***1/2 (121 minutes) M
With a tight-lipped Aaron Petersen as a lonely, personally troubled cop investigating the murder of a local teen, director Ivan Sen delivers a brooding, unsettling, racially charged slice of Outback Noir.
Sen wrote, edited and shot the film, and while he can't avoid some genre cliches he stages a climactic confrontation that redefines "showdown" with a major dose of real-time realism. Stirring widescreen cinematography; hold tight for Ryan Kwanten's icy turn as a local hunter who doesn't much like indigenous folk.
(See our special in-depth interview with Ivan Sen and Aaron Pedersen.)
ABOUT TIME ***1/2 (123 minutes) M
Having laid the tracks for the romantic comedy genre with Love Actually, Four Weddings and a Funeral and Notting Hill, British comedy warhorse Richard Curtis (who, incidentally, wrote Warhorse) hits a film career high with his most beautiful, measured and gorgeously eccentric film yet.
An elderly father (Bill Nighy) tells his son Tim (Domhnall Gleeson) of a family secret - that the men can travel in time throughout their lives. But with such power comes the responsibility to use it wisely as Tim searches for love and discovers there are limits to what he can repeat and repair.
Curtis blends his sci-fi-lite conceit with some fun Groundhog Day-esque sequences but wisely keeps it from dominating the film, which ventures into classic rom-com territory when Tim courts the winsome Mary (Rachel McAdams).
Beautiful, funny, touching and with a great, uplifting message the film can be summed up with two words: everything works.
(See our interview with Richard Curtis.)
IN BOB WE TRUST **** (102 minutes) PG
Outstanding, hugely entertaining, funny/sad profile of suburban legend Bob Maguire - aka Father Bob - as he faces down pressure from on high to retire from his South Melbourne parish. Director Lynn-Maree Milburn and her crew (including producer/cinematographer Richard Lowenstein from Dogs in Space fame) exhaustively tracked their subject for three years and the result is a bristling, enlightening, inspiring journey. And the editing is superb. The brilliant opening montage as Father Bob describes the history of Christianity deserves its own special award.
PATRICK *** (92 minutes) MA
Effectively chilly, moody remake of Richard Franklin's 1978 horror classic about a mysterious coma patient, smartly updated for iGen audiences by director Mark Hartley (Not Quite Hollywood) and screenwriter Justin King.
In a suitably creepy, seaside institute run by a suitably creepy, experiment-obsessed doctor (Charles Dance) nervous newbie nurse (Sharni Vinson) discovers the supine Patrick (Jackson Gallagher) isn't as deep-asleep as everyone thinks.
Heavy with atmosphere, things really spark up once the nasty starts flying. A skilfully made genre piece, Patrick is a very satisfying movie meal, well done with a garnish of dark humour.