Minority Report Stills

Monday, September 23, 2013

Prisoners -- a sort of review

On Saturday my son and I saw the movie Prisoners at Northbrook Court.  Despite the audience (the average age of the audience was around 117!), we both really liked the film.  It's a study in mood, and every scene is shot in bleak, color-bled hues:  gun metal greys; chestnut browns; rust.  (You know the color scheme is pronounced when a color blind guy like me can see the palette!).

In this two shot, the oppressive colors are present everywhere -- the bare trees, the weathered siding of the house, the grey skies, and even the dark colors of the two most prominent characters.  (Not exactly the kind of shot you'd see in a travel brochure or, say, a brochure advertising a college campus).  The atmosphere is so bleak and so heavy, it becomes a sort of ... prison.  

Even though the movie is shot in sharp focus, everything seems to be seen through a sheath of fog, mirroring the uncertainty and despair of the grieving parents whose children have been abducted and the sensational Jake Gyllenhaal, who plays the lead detective on the case.  Everything is right there in front of them, and yet the world remains opaque, impenetrable.

A scene from the movie might help show this.  Here's a link to a weekly feature in The New York Times.  What's nice about this feature -- and there's an archive spanning the last year or two -- is that the director makes a comment on his or her own movie, helping us see the "authorial intention" of the scene.  This might be cool to check out every now and then.  

See how grey, how murky -- visible and invisible at the same time?  

The New York Times and the New Yorker both reviewed the movie when it came out and both spent a good deal of time talking about the photography and the color palette in the movie.  Namely, the NYT reviewer (A.O. Scott) says that "an uncontained atmospheric menace broods over this wintry landscape. "  The New Yorker reviewer (David Denby) says, "Dreariness has its own kind of poetry—it certainly colors the mood of this harrowing tale, which is set in a Pennsylvania suburb. It’s a seemingly normal, quiet place, where fervid religion and rage against God exist side by side; it also has a history of missing children."

Last point:  the movie makes a powerful statement against torture.  There is more on-screen torture in this film than in Zero Dark Thirty or maybe anything else I've ever seen.  And, just as in the "real world" (Guantanamo Bay torture, for example), brutality never leads to truth.

It's a great movie, my son and I agreed, but not one either of us wants to see again.