Recently, when trying to come up with new names for genres, the media has been insistent on taking any verb or noun and following it with the word “porn”. There’s been torture porn, with the inane “Saw” and “Hostel” franchises; there’s been poverty porn, with current TV hit “Benefits Street”, and now it’s time for a brand new genre- misery porn.
This genre already has an undisputed and rather unexpected leader, due to him having appeared in the two most depressing films of the past twelve months, possibly any twelve months in history. I am talking, of course, about Paul Dano, currently being seen in cinemas as a sadistic plantation master in the magnificent “12 Years a Slave” and seen here in this week’s big DVD release Prisoners (**** out of 5) channeling Michael Jackson as the peculiarly asexual neighborhood weirdo accused of kidnapping two little girls.
The film’s main star is Hugh Jackman as Keller Dover, whose daughter has been kidnapped after walking down the road to her friend’s house on thanksgiving. After lone-wolf detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal, and yes, his character really is called Loki) is assigned the case they arrest Dano, only for him to be released due to having a mental age of eight, and therefore incapable of committing such a crime in the eyes of the law.
From here on in, the film truly lives up to the misery porn billing that I’ve assigned it; Dover decides to take the law into his hands, which involves him stalking and eventually taking the acquitted Dano hostage in a run-down shack on the outskirts of town, and torturing him endlessly until he provides information of where his daughter is. As with all films of this type, this is a gross oversimplification of the plot- the best parts of the film are where character motivations become increasingly questionable and it becomes unclear who the hero of the story actually is.
And it’s not just the narrative that’s miserable- Skyfall cinematographer Roger Deakins brings out the bleakest in a snow-covered, poverty filled Massachusetts landscape, which looks like the visualisation of every lyric Bruce Springsteen has ever written.
The film is an impressive English language debut for French-Canadian director Denis Villeneuve, mixing the gritty child abduction drama of Clint Eastwood’s “Mystic River” with the drawn-out police procedural of David Fincher’s “Zodiac” to create a film that is incredibly easy to admire (especially in terms of the performances, with Gyllenhaal effortlessly beating Jackman’s intense overacting), but a hard film to actually enjoy.
After watching “Prisoners” you’ll probably need to watch something that makes you feel like the world isn’t such a miserable place after all- step forward this week’s other big DVD release About Time (*** ½ out of 5).
The film stars Domhnall “son of Brendan” Gleeson as Tim, a bumbling young man who finds out on his 21st birthday that he, like all the other men in the family, can travel through time. Advised by his father (Bill Nighy) that he shouldn’t waste his time getting rich (and as he can only travel to periods in his lifespan, can’t kill Hitler) he decides to go find true love instead, with the position of true love being played by Rachel McAdams.
The film is directed by Richard Curtis, whose films I usually don’t like. His career in cinema (following stints as a co-writer on Blackadder amongst other things) started with the screenplay for “Four Weddings and a Funeral”-granted, it had a few funny moments, but as a working class northerner I find it incredibly difficult to care about upper-class southerners and their romantic entanglements. His directorial career hasn’t improved this- “Love Actually” is among the worst romantic comedies of recent years, a rambling overlong mess that not even Bill’s Nighy or Bob-Thornton could save.
Which is why “About Time” is such a pleasant surprise, despite the fact the film is no departure thematically-Tim and his family live in a beach house in Cornwall you could never afford, and we are asked to care about the romantic entanglements of rich dicks yet again. Crucially it is funnier, thanks in no small part to a supporting role from Tom Hollander (saying lines brilliantly inappropriate for 12A rated movies: “You should fuck my daughter- everybody else has”) and more emotionally involving, albeit not with the central romance.
The film becomes gradually uninvolved with the romantic plot (as well as ignoring the rules for time travel set up in the opening ten minutes) and develops into a film about family, something even a professional cynic like me can get on board with. I don’t want to spoil the film (what am I, a critic?) but if the final ten minutes, heck, the final montage sequence (the contents of which are irrelevant to the actual movie’s plot) don’t make you feel your eyes start to fill with tears of joy because of how happy you are to feel alive then you should probably check your pulse.
Next Week’s DVD’s: Captain Phillips/ Enough Said