Prisoner’s Daughter has the kind of plot that continually telegraphs where it’s going. The machinations of it are glaringly obvious, eliminating any possibility of surprise. You can tell when something is being set up to pay off in a “surprise” fashion later on. You can similarly see how certain elements are going to be used ironically during the third act. Mark Bacci is the credited writer, but the story feels like it was generated by an AI program that has studied too many scripts that follow the formula taught in screenwriting courses.
Maxine (Kate Beckinsale) is a single mom trying to keep son Ezra (Christopher Convery) away from his drug-addicted deadbeat dad, Tyler (played by All-American Rejects lead singer Tyson Ritter). In desperate need of cash, she agrees to provide a home for her father Max (Brian Cox) who is dying of cancer and subsequently being given a “compassionate release” from prison. She has long-standing resentment toward him for committing the violent acts that landed him behind bars in the first place. He, meanwhile, desperately wants to repair their fractured relationship before it’s too late.
With that premise established, Prisoner’s Daughter proceeds to indulge in a series of cliches. Ezra is being bullied by a kid at school, so of course Max teaches him to defend himself. And of course he ends up getting in trouble for pummeling a bully, which of course makes Maxine worry that her dad is a bad influence. Of course Tyler shows up drunk at Ezra’s birthday party, and you can guess how Max responds. Perhaps the biggest of course is that Ezra warms up to Max, while Maxine’s defenses toward him slowly begin to wear down.
Nothing in Prisoner’s Daughter feels authentic. It’s all structured to build to a finale that attempts to resolve each character’s arc in one great big act of storytelling manipulation. Where the plot ends up is as maddening as it is predictable. Director Catherine Hardwicke (Mafia Mamma) stages it in an absurd manner, so that one person knows exactly what another person is going to do and when they’re going to do it. If that second person had a thought that wasn’t dictated by the screenplay’s needs, the whole plan would fall apart.
It's a shame because Brian Cox is typically excellent as Max. He gives a layered, sincere performance. So does Kate Beckinsale. Here are two very good actors, both capable of tackling a deeper, more probing take on this movie’s themes. They’re regrettably stuck with a script that’s content to manufacture cheap drama rather than truly explore the ideas of forgiveness and repentance.
out of four
Prisoner's Daughter is rated R for language and some violence. The running time is 1 hour and 40 minutes.