With a script by Mark Bacci, “Prisoner’s Daughter” unfolds on fairly predictable lines: the slow melting of Maxine towards her father, the bond formed between grandfather and grandson, etc., and Brian Cox and Kate Beckinsale fill their thinly-drawn characters with backstory and fleshed-out complicated emotions. Every scene is loaded with baggage from the past. Ezra, bullied at school for his seizures, needs a father figure since his own dad is a drug-addicted loser named Tyler (Tyson Ritter), who plays in a “band” and lives in what he calls “an artists’ co-op “(really just a drug air). Ezra wants to see his dad more. Tyler demands to be a part of his son’s life. Maxine knows the dangers and is willing to be the “bad guy,” refusing Tyler access. Max, ensconced in the small house, tries to intervene. Sometimes this goes well, other times, not so well.
Good scripts make you forget they are scripts. The script for “Prisoner’s Daughter” is quite talky and never takes wing. You can almost see the words on the page, despite the strong efforts of Beckinsale and Cox. Young Convery (very good in a similar role in “Pinball: The Man Who Saved the Game”) doesn’t fare as well. While Ezra is what you’d call “precocious,” his dialogue tilts into cutesy and sounds like it was written by someone who doesn’t know kids. The self-aware wisecracks grate, as does the calm ability to initiate difficult emotional conversations with adults, using therapeutic-speak, like a sit-com kid, circa 1987. It’s hard to get past this problem. If dialogue doesn’t sound real, nothing else has a chance to lift off. The film is betrayed by its final sequence, where Max takes matters into his own hands, a plot development from a different type of movie altogether. And so what could have been character-driven is plot-driven after all. “Prisoner’s Daughter” deflates.
If you only saw Las Vegas in film, you’d think it was solely made up of the neon strip and populated by gangsters, high-rollers, and showgirls. But Las Vegas is, of course, a place where normal people live. Similar to Alexander Payne’s “The Descendants,” taking place in a Hawaii rarely shown in film, “Prisoner’s Daughter” evokes Las Vegas in all its desert beauty and squalor (the “artists’ co-op” is the grungy stuff of nightmares). Maxine refers to her little house as a “dump,” but it has a backyard, and an unfinished garage, and she’s done her best to make it homey despite her limited means.