‘Prisoner’s Daughter’ Review: A Visceral Brian Cox Performance Can’t Save This Melodrama

This soap opera of a movie sees a terminally ill Brian Cox living under house arrest with his estranged daughter, played by Kate Beckinsale. It's a heavy slog, but Cox's focused artistry makes it watchable.

Brian Cox and Kate Beckinsale in ‘Prisoner’s Daughter.’ Vertical Entertainment

Directed by Catherine Hardwicke, whose debut film Seventeen showed great promise, this maudlin soap opera is a disappointment, despite a strong performance by the extraordinarily gifted veteran actor Brian Cox. He makes every moment he’s on the screen throb with understated honesty, but Prisoner’s Daughter doesn’t boast much of anything else worth remembering.

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PRISONER'S DAUGHTER ★★ (2/4 stars)
Directed by: Catherine Hardwicke
Written by: Mark Bacci
Starring: Kate Beckinsale, Brian Cox, Christopher Convery, Jon Huertas, Ernie Hudson, Tyson Ritter
Running time: 100 mins.

Cox plays Max, a former boxer who, after serving 12 years in prison, is diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer and compassionately released, on the condition that he spend what little time he has left under house arrest in the custody of his estranged daughter Maxine (a wasted Kate Beckinsale). Still nursing psychological wounds from a tortured childhood, Maxine has no love for the father she can’t forgive and doesn’t want him around her 12-year-old son Ezra, but she grudgingly accepts the deal in return for rent and expenses because she’s working multiple jobs to cover the mortgage on her home in Las Vegas and pay for expensive medications for Ezra, who has epilepsy.

The movie is about the various ways Max seeks redemption, struggling to rebuild the damaged relationship with his daughter, make amends for the wasted years, and lay the groundwork for his grandson’s future. That’s not all. Maxine also endures constant intrusions from her ex-husband, a shiftless, unemployed musician and violent drug addict who competes for Ezra’s attention himself. Everything, as Thelma Ritter said about Eve Harrington in All About Eve, but the bloodhounds snapping at her rear end.

Surprisingly, the overstuffed yet bland screenplay by Mark Bacci offers no wit or nuance to relieve the tedium, but stocks the melodrama with cliches from other movies and easy solutions to the dilemma as Max bonds with Ezra by teaching him to defend himself against the school bullies who keep send the kid home with black eyes. Nobody exhibits much maturity. Max doesn’t have the courage or character to admit his criminal past or explain why he was incarcerated in the first place. As troubled as she is by everything that’s going on, Maxine doesn’t offer much of an argument when Max engages another ex-con to give Ezra boxing lessons. Each character is forced to contend with the clouds that darken their past in order to make something positive of their future, but we know Max’s terminal prognosis will not guarantee much of a happy ending. The result is eventually unbearably depressing.

It’s a heavy slog, but the strength and force that makes Prisoner’s Daughter watchable lies in the focused artistry of Brian Cox, who infuses his role with a visceral understanding of what it means to stare mortality in the face and come out swinging.

Observer Reviews are regular assessments of new and noteworthy cinema.


‘Prisoner’s Daughter’ Review: A Visceral Brian Cox Performance Can’t Save This Melodrama