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Movies: 'Prisoners,' 'In a World ...' & 'The Family'

Updated 5:28 am, Sunday, September 22, 2013
  • "Prisoners," starring Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal, is playing in area movie theaters. Photo: Contributed Photo / Westport News contributed
    "Prisoners," starring Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal, is playing in area movie theaters. Photo: Contributed Photo

 

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Following are Susan Granger's reviews of the latest movies in area theaters:

"PRISONERS"

A triumph of intelligent acting and astute filmmaking, "Prisoners" is a harrowing, adult drama that's filled with horror and heartache, yet leavened with hope.

When carpenter/handyman Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) takes his son (Dylan Minnette) deer hunting, it's just part of the teenager's survivalist training: "Be ready" is Keller's credo. But nothing could prepare him for the events of a bitterly cold Thanksgiving afternoon in suburban Pennsylvania. While Keller and his wife (Maria Bello), son and daughter are sharing Thanksgiving dinner with neighbors Franklin and Nancy Birch (Terrence Howard, Viola Davis), 6-year-old Anna Dover (Anna Gerasimovich) and 7-year-old Joy Birch (Kyula-Drew Simmons) disappear without a trace.

Their only lead is a battered RV camper that was parked on the street earlier in the day. Heading the investigation is Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal), who arrests its creepy driver, mentally challenged Alex Jones (Paul Dano), but can find no physical evidence of the missing girls' abduction. Realizing that the longer it takes to find the youngsters, the less likely it is that they'll be alive, enraged Keller decides to take matters into his own hands.

Holding the screen with volcanic force, Jackman's passionate performance delves deeper and deeper into a father's desperation and panic, while Gyllenhaal inhabits his mysteriously reserved, yet persistent character with nuanced, methodical precision. Skillfully helmed by Denis Villenueve, a sophisticated French-Canadian director best known for his Oscar-nominated "Incendies" (2010), and hauntingly photographed by veteran cinematographer Roger Deakins, it's based on a compelling, original screenplay by Aaron Guzikowski ("Contraband") that's filled with unexpected twists and trapped, multi-dimensional characters.

In addition, it's studded with accomplished supporting performances by Davis, Bello, Howard, Dano, Melissa Leo and Len Cariou. Despite an overly long running time (a sprawling 153 minutes), even the moody score by Icelandic composer Johann Johannsson strikes just the right resonance of dread.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Prisoners" is an unflinching, intense 9 -- an intricate thriller evoking complex emotional conflict, moral ambiguity and sustained psychological suspense.

"IN A WORLD ..."

Have you ever wondered about the people who make those tantalizing film trailers, portentously voicing, "In a world where..."? That's what this movie's about.

Working as screenwriter, director, producer and star, multi-faced Lake Bell peeks behind-the-curtain of Hollywood's little known but competitive "voice-over" profession.

Haplessly neurotic Carol Solomon (that's Bell) is a dialect coach and aspiring voice-over artist whose ego-centric father, Sam Soto (Fred Melamed), is one of the industry's greats. Rather than encouraging Carol, pompous, chauvinistic Sam constantly demeans her efforts, telling her, "The industry does not crave a female sound."

Instead, he serves as mentor to Gustav Werner (Ken Marino), an arrogant, up-and-coming protege who, not realizing who she is, seduces Carol after an industry party at his mansion. Meanwhile, Carol's encouraged by Louis (Demetri Martin), a nerdy post-production audio engineer who not only adores her but pushes big business her way. This all happens just as she's forced to move out of her father's apartment and crash on her older sister (Michaela Watkins) and brother-in-law's (Rob Corddry) couch while they're in the midst of a marital crisis.

To complicate matters further, Carol, Sam and Gustav find themselves engaged in a toxic rivalry, vying to land the all-important trailer for a new movie franchise, "The Amazon Games," which will enable them to utter the "In this world ..." phrase made famous by the legendary baritone Don LaFontaine, who died in 2008.

As writer, Bell delivers a witty, sophisticated screenplay, tinged with satirical sexism, yet filled with smart, multi-faceted characters. As director, her casting sense is astute, although her comedic pacing occasionally resembles that of a sitcom. As the charming, if self-involved protagonist, Bell takes particular delight in tweaking ditsy young women with squeaky voices.

Eva Longoria gamely proves she's a great sport in a self-parodying Cockney-accent scene, while Tig Notaro, Nick Offerman, Alexandra Holden and Geena Davis lend support.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "In a World ..." is a savvy, screwball 7, a low-budget feminist comedy gem.

"THE FAMILY"

French director Luc Besson has assembled a star-studded cast for this dark, mobsters-in-hiding comedy, revolving around Giovanni Manzoni (Robert DeNiro), who has millions in the bank, but he's ruthlessly ratted out the Brooklyn Mafia and will spend the rest of his life in the FBI's Witness Protection Program.

Problem is, he keeps blowing his cover, which frustrates his dyspeptic handler (Tommy Lee Jones).

With his highly dysfunctional family, Gio has just been relocated to a small village in Normandy, France. Under the assumed name of Blake, the Manzonis are faced with yet another set of readjustment problems.

Gio's wife Maggie (Michelle Pfeiffer) not only can't find peanut butter in the food mart but she's rudely informed that local grocers don't like to stock American products. Infuriated at the disrespect, she blows up the place. The manipulative Manzoni offspring -- 17-year-old Belle (Dianna Agron, the head cheerleader from TV's "Glee") and her 14-year-old brother Warren (John D'Leo) -- quickly size up their new schoolmates and embark on their own schemes.

Instructed to stay in the house most of the time, aging Gio discovers an old, manual typewriter and decides to write a tell-all memoir. And the Manzonis' "get-acquainted" barbecue backfires when they realize the depth of their arrogant neighbors' condescension. Meanwhile, back home, the imprisoned Mafia dons dispatch contract killers to exact retribution.

Written by director Luc Besson ("The Fifth Element," "The Invisibles") with Michael Caleo, it's adapted from Tonino Benacquista's novel "Malavita." While the weak, uneven script never settles on a consistent, cohesive tone, the performances elevate the material.

By now, DeNiro can play sociopathic mobsters in his sleep but, to his credit, he doesn't. Revisiting her previous turns in "Scarface" and "Married to the Mob," Pfeiffer seems to have perfected an empathetic take on the brittle gangster parody, while Jones exudes an exasperated world-weariness.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "The Family" is a facetious, amusingly amoral 6, laden with far-from-comedic carnage.