The Movie Waffler New to VOD - PRISONER’S DAUGHTER | The Movie Waffler


A dying convict attempts to reconnect with his daughter.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Catherine Hardwicke

Starring: Kate Beckinsale, Brian Cox, Tyson Ritter, Christopher Convery, Ernie Hudson, Jon Huertas

Prisoner's Daughter poster

On paper Prisoner's Daughter seems to represent a return to director Catherine Hardwicke's roots in grounded, gritty dramas set in the working class communities of the American South West. But its faintly sketched characters, tendency towards melodrama and predictable climax often make it resemble the sort of superficial family dramas that were popular on US TV in the '90s, but without the luxury of several seasons to allow us to get to know its characters.

Brian Cox plays Max, a prisoner who is offered the chance to return home and be placed under house arrest when he is diagnosed with terminal cancer. Trouble is, the family home is occupied by his daughter Maxine (Kate Beckinsale) and his 12-year-old grandson Ezra (Christopher Convery), and Maxine doesn't want her old man anywhere near her son.

Prisoner's Daughter review

That's until Maxine loses her waitressing job thanks to her drug addict ex Tyler (Tyson Ritter) causing a violent scene at her workplace. Unable to pay for her epileptic son's meds, she agrees to take in Max on two conditions: that he pays rent and pretends to be a long-lost uncle rather than Ezra's grandfather.

What should be a story of an estranged father and daughter slowly learning to put the past behind them never really pans out. Maxine is initially all bluster, but she's won over remarkably quickly by her dad, chiefly because he gets his hands on large sums of cash and even builds an extension onto the family home. Rather than a clash between Max and Maxine, the movie's central conflict pivots to an inevitable showdown between Max and Tyler, one that borrows liberally from a certain Clint Eastwood movie.

Prisoner's Daughter review

Prisoner's Daughter avoids getting into the meat of its central relationship, as though screenwriter Mark Bacci has no personal familiarity with this sort of dynamic and hasn't done much in the way of research. There are occasional references to Max's violent past as a mob enforcer, but the severity of his crimes are left ambiguous. This causes us to question the film's portrayal of him as a kindly old man who just wants to do right with his family before he dies. Did Max kill people? Did he ever bring his violent ways back home to his family? Maxine's issues with her father don't seem to stem so much from him being a bad man as from him being absent throughout much of her life. If the film had leaned into Maxine being fine with criminality, having become numb to it due to being raised by a criminal, it might have made for a more interesting and certainly grittier drama than we're ultimately presented with.

The film presents something of a twisted morality. We're asked to warm to Max despite his violent past, but we're supposed to view the drug addicted Tyler as the embodiment of evil. Tyler is viewed through a very reactionary lens – he's a deadbeat musician who lives in an artist's community, so of course he's no good, right? When Max learns Ezra is being bullied he has an old friend (Ernie Hudson) give the boy boxing lessons, leading to a Karate Kid-esque scene where Ezra pummels his bully. Again, the idea of a perpetuating cycle of violence being passed down from Max to his grandson is something the film isn't interested in reckoning with.

Prisoner's Daughter review

Beckinsale is arguably a bit too glamorous to fully convince as a woman who has led a life as troubled as Maxine, but she's so charismatic that it's easy to overlook her miscasting. Conversely, Cox fully convinces as a brawler with a short fuse, but the movie never plays up to his strengths. Even if the script never really gives them anything of note to chew on, Beckinsale and Cox are very engaging, making Prisoner's Daughter an easy watch. But should a movie with this premise be an easy watch?

Prisoner's Daughter
 is on UK/ROI VOD now.

2023 movie reviews