updated 09/19/2013 AT 3:00 PM ET
•originally published 09/20/2013 AT 2:00 PM ET
Hugh Jackman goes extra dark in Prisoners, but the real surprise, says PEOPLE’s critic, is the late James Gandolfini showing his lighter side in Enough Said.
There’s nothing like the psychic shock and horror of child abduction. It terrifies communities and sends parents into entirely understandable panic. So it’s with no small calculation that Prisoners snatches two children right out from under their watchful parents’ noses – and on Thanksgiving, no less. Then it gets really mean.
If you’re no fan of on-screen brutality, then this is not your Saturday night at the movies. Because when his daughter goes missing, working-class dad Keller Dover (Jackman) turns into a one-man torture crew, setting his sights on neighborhood weirdo Alex Jones (Paul Dano), and making him pay for his sins – real or imagined. Is Alex responsible for taking the little girls? Is Keller doing what any parent would do? Or has he just become a monster on par with the one holding his own family hostage?
These are ponderous moral questions, but Prisoners is more interested in the twists of its serpentine narrative than it is in the weight and purity of Keller’s soul. As difficult as the film’s two-and-a-half-hour running time will make it, do try to keep up with the myriad plot points, or you’ll be as clueless as the officer on the case, Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal). The guy does his best, which isn’t easy with a rogue parent like Dover running around mucking things up, but I’ll bet you pick up on clues he misses.
But even a few logic problems can’t dim Prisoners’ stylishness. Director Denis Villeneuve (Encendies) drenches his actors in pouring rain, hides them behind foggy, dirty windows, and maroons them as lonely islands, searching for the children together, but each alone in his or her suffering. It’s just too bad that the mothers, Nancy (Viola Davis) and Grace (Maria Bello), get so little to do while Jackman mutates into vengeance personified, and Terrence Howard shows intriguingly subtle shadings as Franklin, the other aggrieved father. Even Gyllenhaal is a cypher: Sprinkled with tattoos and wearing ill-fitting shirts, he never becomes a fully realized person, just a means to an end.
Still, Prisoners is a solid thriller, with a few interesting performances and a creepy ending you’ll be talking about on the way home – provided that you can sit through something so dark for so long.
And See This
As if we needed more reasons to miss Gandolfini, the smart, funny Enough Said reveals that he could have been a delightful romantic-comedy star, if he’d so chosen. At least we have this one to savor.
The film stars Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Eva, a divorced mom whose daughter, Ellen (Tracey Fairaway), is about to head off to college. Eva meets divorced dad Albert (Gandolfini) at a party, where they each decide they’re not attracted to anyone. Of course, they’re into each other, and all goes surprisingly well after a few awkward first moves. But then Eva starts to listen to the poison spouted by her poet friend, Marianne (Catherine Keener), a woman with a seriously unhealthy perspective on her own ex. Will Eva embrace Albert and all his quirks, or let Marianne ruin a good thing?
It sounds like a basic enough rom-com, but Enough Said, directed by Nicole Holofcener, throws in a heck of a twist along with its charm. (The trailer is a massive spoiler, so avoid it if you can.) Normally, such a contrivance would be annoying, but Holofcener makes it realistic, while Louis-Dreyfus and Gandolfini add warmth and humanity. Eva may be complicated (and a little screwed up), but she means well, while Albert – our Albert – is divine. He’s a warm hug on a chilly evening, a sexy, funny teddy bear of a guy.
Together, Holofcener, Gandolfini and Louis-Dreyfus give viewers a rare cinematic treat: a lived-in romance about actual grown-ups that will leave you feeling better than when you walked in. And if it makes us appreciate Gandolfini all the more, then that’s okay too.
Star Trek: Stardate Collection
I don’t get to issue nerd alerts all that often, but here’s one I’m proud to share. All 10 original Star Trek films (think: William Shatner and Patrick Stewart, not Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto) are now available in one set on Blu-Ray and DVD. Plus, the mega-set includes a 70-minute featurette, The Captains’ Summit, in which Whoopi Goldberg (The Next Generation’s Guinan) chats up Shatner, Stewart, Leonard Nimoy and her Next Generation co-star Jonathan Frakes.
But if you’re too commitment-phobic for all that, I have even better news: Every Star Trek film, including the 2009 series reboot and this summer’s Into Darkness, is available on Demand right now. Most titles run through the end of the year, so you can watch long and prosper.