Prisoners (2013) Film. Director: Denis Villeneuve




How far would you go to protect your family? Keller Dover is facing every parent’s worst nightmare. His six-year-old daughter, Anna, is missing, together with her young friend, Joy, and as minutes turn to hours, panic sets in. The only lead is a dilapidated RV that had earlier been parked on their street. Heading the investigation, Detective Loki arrests its driver, Alex Jones, but a lack of evidence forces his release. As the police pursue multiple leads and pressure mounts, knowing his child’s life is at stake the frantic Dover decides he has no choice but to take matters into his own hands. But just how far will this desperate father go to protect his family?  (Imdb)


The Guardian, Thursday 26 September 2013 

Canadian director Denis Villeneuve is known and admired for his 2010 movie Incendies, a mysterious and involved tale that I thought worked as a kind of prose-poem about memory and identity, and about how violence and bloodshed are the creator/parents of a traumatised future – but I wondered about its straightforward believability as drama. Now Villeneuve has made his first English-language film, Prisoners, a long, brutal and occasionally gripping forensic crime drama. Hugh Jackmanstars as a man whose little daughter has been kidnapped; Jake Gyllenhaal is the cop assigned to the case, and Paul Dano is the disturbed individual who holds the key to the whole thing. This movie keeps plenty of suspects in play, along with multiple plotlines running and plates spinning. It all finally ties up – sort of. Prisoners is as involved and twisty as any airport bestseller: not an adaptation, though, but an original screenplay by the TV writer-producer Aaron Guzikowski.

It obviously aspires to something more than pulp, with the pluralities of meaning in the title. There are flashes of the macabre, which put me very briefly in mind of Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs (1991) or George Sluizer’s The Vanishing (1993). The film gestures at agonised questions of guilt, crime and punishment: on the poster, the haggard and bearded Jackman has a Dostoevskian look that oddly does not come across in the movie itself. Perhaps most interestingly, Villeneuve and Guzikowski appear to be contriving some metaphors for the “war on terror”; some anxieties buried in the American psyche about just what is involved when interrogation is enhanced.

Jackman and Terrence Howard are Keller and Franklin, two middle-aged guys, who with their wives Grace (Maria Bello) and Nancy (Viola Davis), are forever having family get-togethers. After one boozy Thanksgiving lunch, the grownups let their two little girls play out on the street, close to where a creepy campervan is parked. When the two girls vanish, along with the sinister vehicle, a massive police hunt is directed by Detective Loki (Gyllenhaal), who is haunted by the case and perhaps, in the time-honoured manner, by his own personal demons. But on arresting the van’s driver, the learning-impaired Alex Jones (Dano), there is still no sign of the girls and the man appears entirely unresponsive to ferocious questioning. With no legal grounds to hold him, and to general community outrage, Loki has to let the man go. In the brawl outside the station, Jones murmurs something to Keller. Could it be that he does know something – taunting the parents with riddles and clues?

Villeneuve is good at showing the nauseating excavation and archaeology involved here: vast areas are searched and sifted through. And when the investigation is as widespread and concerted as this, other horrors, long hidden, can be dredged up too. Loki has to contact and question all the known sex offenders in the locality, and his fanatical persistence seems to bring new atrocities to light. The discovery of a mouldering corpse, which may or may not have anything to do with the missing girls, appears to cause only an infinite weariness and distaste in Loki. He speaks to one woman whose little boy vanished without trace 20 years ago, and she seems almost resigned to tragedies like hers never getting solved: “No one took them; nothing happened; they’re just gone.”

Set against this nihilist despair is something else: rage. For the families, the girls’ kidnapping appears to be an act of terrorism and something must be done. The idea that Jones actually does know something, and that pussyfooting law-enforcement officials are failing to get at the truth, is intolerable. The result is violence, and some horrible images that are closer to European hardcore than mainstream Hollywood.

But what exactly is the movie saying about all this? It could be that tortureis always morally culpable, that it never elicits anything of value – or it could be that it is dirty work that gets results. Rather as in Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty (2012), there is a kind of ambiguity about righteous violence in Prisoners and how exactly we are supposed to feel about it. The film finally effects an evasive blend of condemnation and sentimental exoneration. Perhaps more disconcerting is the way Guzikowski’s screenplay has to strain and squirm to tie up all its loose ends, and the film will try your patience with some of the later throwaway revelations. A certain dour realist vigour keeps the nightmare alive.



Kidnapping thrillers often lull us into a sense of safety in the opening sequences, showing the normal rhythms of life that will soon be shattered. Denis Villeneuve’s “Prisoners” does not go that route. It opens with a shot of a snowy forest, where a deer quietly noses around for food. Into the frame comes the barrel of a shotgun. We hear a prayer being intoned. Boom, the deer goes down. The camera pulls back to show a father (Hugh Jackman) and teenage son (Dylan Minnette), in day-glo hunting gear staring at their kill through the ranks of bare trees. On the drive home, the father, who seems humorless, intense, and a bit of a bore, lectures the son on how to always be prepared for the worst in life.

This opening is so heavy-handed that it’s amazing that the film doesn’t instantly collapse under its symbolic weight. Shot by the great Roger Deakins, regular cinematographer for the Coen brothers, the movie is drenched in rain and drained of color. Aspects of “Prisoners” are effective, but for the most part it’s rather ridiculous (despite the fact that it clearly wants to be taken super-seriously), and there’s an overwrought quality to much of the acting.

Keller Dover (Jackman) is an independent contractor who lives with his wife Grace (Maria Bello) and two kids in a suburban neighborhood. He loves Bruce Springsteen, “The Star-Spangled Banner,” hunting, and hoarding canned goods, gas masks, and survivalist gadgets in his basement. On Thanksgiving, the Dovers go to dinner with a neighboring family, Franklin and Nancy Birch (Terrence Howard and Viola Davis), who have two kids the same age. While the parents drink wine and talk in the living room, the two little girls ask if they can take a walk. It is a walk from which they do not return. Panic ensues, especially when it becomes clear that a creepy RV, which had been seen parked in the neighborhood earlier, has vanished. Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) is assigned to the case.

The RV’s owner, Alex Jones (Paul Dano), is dragged in for questioning. Forensics say the RV is clean of physical evidence, but Alex is strange. he speaks in a whispery high voice that makes him sound like a pre-teen. It is not inconceivable to think that he may be hiding something. This is clearly Dover’s take, and he and Loki immediately start to butt heads about the course of the investigation. When Jones is released due to lack of evidence (into the custody of his aunt, played by Melissa Leo), Dover takes matters into his own hands, kidnapping Jones, and holding him hostage in an abandoned dilapidated building. Dover loops in Franklin Birch on his plan to beat the truth out of Jones. Birch is horrified at the sight of Jones tied to a sink, but he ignores his own moral compass in the face of Dover’s furious certainty. This is one of the subtler points of the script: how certainty can override doubt with sheer force, and how doubt is often essential to maintaining our humanity.

Hugh Jackman huffs and puffs and screams and roars throughout the film, and it becomes monotonous, but what all that behavior tells us is that this is a weak man who needs to feel powerful. In one telling moment, while murmuring the “Our Father,” he is unable to say “as we forgive those who trespass against us.” He has a veritable arsenal in his basement, his family could withstand a mustard gas attack as well as the Zombie Apocalypse, but he couldn’t protect his daughter on a simple walk through a safe neighborhood. And he’s so convinced that Alex Jones is the guy that he is blind to other possibilities. Meanwhile, his wife lies in bed, tranquilizing herself into a stupor.

Gyllenhaal is great here in a role that must have looked rather uninteresting on the page. Aaron Guzikowski’s script, so packed with religious symbols that verges on a sermon, is excellent in its spare and compelling portrait of Loki. The only image of the character outside the context of his job is his introductory scene, eating Thanksgiving dinner in an empty, fluorescent-lit Chinese restaurant as the rain batters down outside. The only thing we learn about his past is that he was in a boys’ home and was raised in foster care. His knuckles and neck are sprinkled with tattoos, including a cross on one thumb. He’s got a facial tic. We meet a lot of creeps in “Prisoners”, and you get the sense that Detective Loki could have been one of them if he hadn’t become a cop. It’s a nice performance from Gyllenhaal, and its subtlety is welcome considering all the teeth gnashing going on in other performances.

Director Villeneuve gives us a couple of truly suspenseful scenes. One is a chase through the nighttime back yards of the neighborhood after a candlelight vigil for the two girls. The interiors of the houses seem gloomy and cramped, with walls cutting into the frame and characters coming in and out of sight: a visual correlative for the idea of people cut off from one another. But as the plot goes into high gear and we get other suspects, basement lairs and a glimpse of vast conspiracies, “Prisoners” wears out its welcome.



Your child has been kidnapped and a suspect has been brought in for questioning. His battered RV was parked in your neighborhood around the same time your 6-year-old daughter went missing. After a couple of days, several rounds of questioning and a lie detector test it’s determined he wasn’t involved and is released. No other suspects exist, your girl is still missing and your spouse is a blubbering mess. What do you do?

 Prepare for dark territory with Denis Villeneuve‘s Prisoners, a film where one father offers his response to the question above as an increasingly mysterious case surrounding his daughter’s disappearance unfolds. In terms of tone,Prisoners is operating on the same dark level asDavid Fincher‘s Zodiac and Roger Deakinsdelivers some of the best cinematography of his career, turning something as trivial as a car coming to a curbside stop into a foreboding dolly shot. Eventree bark offers up riddles of its own.

Set during the grey and gloomy months of a Pennsylvanian November, we’re introduced to Keller and Grace Dover (Hugh Jackman andMaria Bello) and Franklin and Nancy Birch (Terrence Howard and Viola Davis) and their respective families. It’s Thanksgiving and as the day wears the two soon-to-be victims ask if they can briefly run back to the Dovers’. Permission is granted, but not without their big brother and sister. The exception is noted, but not obeyed. They head back alone. They don’t come back.

After an exhaustive search, the only suspect is the curious driver of the aforementioned RV, Alex Jones (Paul Dano). Greasy and soft-spoken, Alex has the IQ of a ten-year-old and claims to have no knowledge of the children’s whereabouts and is eventually allowed to go home with his adoptive mother (Melissa Leo). As you may guess, this doesn’t go over too well with the little girls’ parents, Keller in particular.

Jackman is rage personified. Any one of his incarnations as the comic book antihero Wolverine would run from Keller Dover. He’s a father that will stop at nothing to get his little girl back and God be with anyone that gets in his way.

On the other side of the story is Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal), a man whose personal life is a bit more grey. Initially seen alone in a diner on Thanksgiving night, he gets the call to investigate Alex’s RV parked near a wooded area. His methods seem sound and he’s determined to get the two missing girls back, but there’s nothing he can say or do that will convince Keller absolutely everything is being done.

For those that have seen the trailer and believe the film has been spoiled, it hasn’t. The latter half offers a lot more to chew on including turns in the narrative and questions of morality that are both answered and left open to interpretation. To top it off, the performances across the board are stellar with Jackman and Gyllenhaal offering some of the best work I’ve seen from either of them, both worthy of Oscar attention. Jackman especially deserving of consideration along with a sneaky little gem of a performance from Melissa Leo.

Along with the cinematography from Deakins, which is sure to earn him his 11th Oscar nomination, the score from little known Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson, contributing for the first time to a major motion picture, brings a heightened level of menace to Deakins’ cool greys and rain soaked pavement.

There is something, however, about Prisoners that keeps me from really falling for it and I can’t quite put my finger on it. Maybe it has to do with the overall efficiency of Villeneuve’s direction, opposite a few coincidences that come up over the course of the nearly 150-minute running time that contradict how effective the rest of the film is. It’s not fair, but the film is almost a victim of its own success in this case. Minor details end up amplified as a result, but given the complexity of the narrative, the performances, exceedingly high level of filmmaking and the balance of emotions,Prisoners is not a film to be missed.





Touching the Void (2003) Documentary Film. Director: Kevin Macdonald



In the mid-80’s two young climbers attempted to reach the summit of Siula Grande in Peru; a feat that had previously been attempted but never achieved. With an extra man looking after base camp, Simon and Joe set off to scale the mount in one long push over several days. The peak is reached, however on the descent Joe falls and breaks his leg. Despite what it means, the two continue with Simon letting Joe out on a rope for 300 meters, then descending to join him and so on. However when Joe goes out over an overhang with no way of climbing back up, Simon makes the decision to cut the rope. Joe falls into a crevasse and Simon, assuming him dead, continues back down. Joe however survives the fall and was lucky to hit a ledge in the crevasse. This is the story of how he got back down.(Imdb)




Mountain climbing has long provided a seductive metaphor for spiritual quests, ever since Moses went up Mount Sinai and came down with the Ten Commandments.

We may no longer expect explicit spiritual guidance in our mountain movies, but a film like Kevin Macdonald’s disappointing ”Touching the Void,” a British semidocumentary that opens today in New York and Los Angeles, is still very much concerned with notions of purification and transcendence, of slipping the bonds of ordinary material existence and entering a new, elevated realm of stark simplicity, elemental forces and moral clarity.


The mountain movies that were popular in Germany in the late 20’s and early 30’s, many starring Leni Riefenstahl and Luis Trenker, pointed a clear way out of the messy conflicts and confusions of the Weimar era. Unfortunately, however, they pointed to Hitler, who quickly appropriated the mountain imagery for his own propaganda ends.

In keeping with our current ideologies, the climb in ”Touching the Void” is treated less like a religious retreat than a psychological encounter session, a high-altitude group-therapy meeting that allows its two real-life protagonists, the British climbers Joe Simpson and Simon Yates, to learn important lessons about themselves and their inter-personal relationships.

With the use of staged, pseudo-documentary sequences, the film reconstructs the disastrous 1985 attempt that Mr. Simpson and Mr. Yates made on the 21,000-foot Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes. All went well for three days until Mr. Simpson fell and drove his lower leg into his kneecap, leaving him crippled. Mr. Yates tried to lower Mr. Simpson down the mountainside with a climbing rope, but accidentally lowered him into a deep crevasse. Receiving no response from his partner, Mr. Yates was faced with a terrible choice: either to stay and hold on to the rope, at the risk of being eventually pulled into the ravine by Mr. Simpson’s body weight, or to cut the rope and try to save himself.

While the actors Brendan Mackey (as Mr. Simpson) and Nicholas Aaron (as Mr. Yates) recreate the climb on camera (with the help of climbing doubles), clambering through locations that range from the actual Peruvian mountain to Mount Blanc in the Alps, the genuine Mr. Simpson and Mr. Yates narrate their adventures from an unidentified cozy, warm place just off screen. Because we already know the two men will survive, suspense is at a minimum; the film is more concerned with the awful suffering they endured, tortures both mental (as Mr. Yates struggles with the decision to cut the cord) and physical (as Mr. Simpson finds himself in the pit of an ice cave, barely able to crawl and with no obvious way out).

This is compelling stuff, but there is something deeply distracting in the use of recreated material. Mr. Macdonald, the director, imitates a raw, video-based cinéma vérité style, but fairly often places the camera in locations that would be inaccessible to a cameraman on the actual expedition (for example, when Mr. Simpson falls into the crevasse, the camera crew is already there to meet him).

Just as Mr. Simpson falls into the physical hell of the mountain’s cavernous innards, so does Mr. Yates confront the moral hell of being forced — or so he believes — to sacrifice his partner in order to save himself. The lesson of ”Touching the Void” is that both experiences not only can be survived, but also can be an occasion for what the daytime talk shows call ”personal growth.” Having come through, having touched the void and been touched by it, Mr. Simpson and Mr. Yates are shown as elevated spirits, with a new sense of what is important in their lives and what is not. It is apparently not only the church that now produces saints but also extreme sports as well.




For someone who fervently believes he will never climb a mountain, I spend an unreasonable amount of time thinking about mountain-climbing. In my dreams my rope has come lose and I am falling, falling, and all the way down I am screaming: “Stupid! You’re so stupid! You climbed all the way up there just so you could fall back down!”

Now there is a movie more frightening than my nightmares. “Touching the Void” is the most harrowing movie about mountain climbing I have seen, or can imagine. I’ve read reviews from critics who were only moderately stirred by the film (my friend Dave Kehr certainly kept his composure), and I must conclude that their dreams are not haunted as mine are.

I didn’t take a single note during this film. I simply sat there before the screen, enthralled, fascinated and terrified. Not for me the discussions about the utility of the “pseudo-documentary format,” or questions about how the camera happened to be waiting at the bottom of the crevice when Simpson fell in. “Touching the Void” was, for me, more of a horror film than any actual horror film could ever be.

The movie is about Joe Simpson and Simon Yates, two Brits in their mid-20s who were determined to scale the forbidding west face of a mountain named Siula Grande, in the Peruvian Andes. They were fit and in good training, and bold enough to try the “one push” method of climbing, in which they carried all their gear with them instead of establishing caches along the route. They limited their supplies to reduce weight, and planned to go up and down quickly.

It didn’t work out that way. Snowstorms slowed and blinded them. The ascent was doable, but on the way down, the storms disoriented them and the drifts concealed the hazard of hidden crevices and falls. Roped together, they worked with one man always anchored, and so Yates was able to hold the rope when Simpson had a sudden fall. But it was disastrous: He broke his leg, driving the calf bone up through the knee socket. Both of them knew that a broken leg on a two-man climb, with rescue impossible, was a death sentence, and indeed Simpson tells us he was rather surprised that Yates decided to stay with him and try to get him down.

We know that Simpson survived, because the movie shows the real-life Simpson and Yates, filmed against plain backgrounds, looking straight on into the camera, remembering their adventure in their own words. We also see the ordeal re-enacted by two actors (Brendan Mackey as Simpson, Nicholas Aaron as Yates), and experienced climbers are used as stunt doubles. The movie was shot on location in Peru and also in the Alps, and the climbing sequences are always completely convincing; the use of actors in those scenes is not a distraction because their faces are so bearded, frost-bitten and snow-caked that we can hardly recognize them.

Yates and Simpson had a 300-foot rope. Yates’ plan was to lower Simpson 300 feet and wait for a tug on the rope. That meant Simpson had dug in and anchored himself and it was safe for Yates to climb down and repeat the process. A good method in theory, but then, after dark, in a snow storm, Yates lowered Simpson over a precipice and left him hanging in mid-air over a drop of unknowable distance. Because they were out of earshot in the blizzard, all Yates could know was that the rope was tight and not moving, and his feet were slipping out of the holes he had dug to brace them. After an hour or so, he realized they were at an impasse. Simpson was hanging in mid air, Yates was slipping, and unless he cut the rope they would both surely die. So he cut the rope.

Simpson says he would have done the same thing under the circumstances, and we believe him. What we can hardly believe is what happens next, and what makes the film into an incredible story of human endurance.

If you plan to see the film — it will not disappoint you — you might want to save the rest of the review until later.

Simpson, incredibly, falls into a crevice but is slowed and saved by several snow bridges he crashes through before he lands on an ice ledge with a drop on either side. So there he is, in total darkness and bitter cold, his fuel gone so that he cannot melt snow, his lamp battery running low, and no food. He is hungry, dehydrated, and in cruel pain from the bones grinding together in his leg (two aspirins didn’t help much).

It is clear Simpson cannot climb back up out of the crevice. So he eventually gambles everything on a strategy that seems madness itself, but was his only option other than waiting for death: He uses the rope to lower himself down into the unknown depths below. If the distance is more than 300 feet, well, then, he will literally be at the end of his rope.

But there is a floor far below, and in the morning he sees light and is able, incredibly, to crawl out to the mountainside. And that is only the beginning of his ordeal. He must somehow get down the mountain and cross a plain strewn with rocks and boulders, so that he cannot walk but must try to hop or crawl despite the pain in his leg. That he did it is manifest, since he survived to write a book and appear in the movie. How he did it provides an experience that at times had me closing my eyes against his agony.

This film is an unforgettable experience, directed by Kevin Macdonald (who made “One Day In September,” the Oscar-winner about the 1972 Olympiad) with a kind of brutal directness and simplicity that never tries to add suspense or drama (none is needed!) but simply tells the story, as we look on in disbelief.

We learn at the end that after two years of surgery Simpson’s leg was repaired, and that (but you anticipated this, didn’t you?) he went back to climbing again. Learning this, I was reminded of Boss Gettys’ line about Citizen Kane: “He’s going to need more than one lesson.” I hope to God the rest of his speech does not apply to Simpson: “… and he’ s going to get more than one lesson.”





Mud (2012) Film. Director: Jeff Nichols




14 year-old Ellis (Tye Sheridan) lives on a makeshift houseboat on the banks of a river in Arkansas with his parents, Mary Lee (Sarah Paulson) and Senior (Ray McKinnon). He sneaks out early one morning to meet his best friend, Neckbone (Jacob Lofland). Neckbone, also 14, lives with his uncle, Galen (Michael Shannon), who makes a hardscrabble living diving for oysters. The two boys set out to an island on the Mississippi River, where Neckbone has discovered an unusual sight-a boat, suspended high in the trees, a remnant of an extreme flood some time in the past. They climb the tree and into the boat only to find fresh bread and fresh footprints. Realizing that they are not the only ones who have discovered the treehouse boat, they decide to leave. When they reach the shore, they find the same footprint in their boat. And that’s when they meet Mud (Matthew McConaughey). Mud is a gritty, superstitious character; his clothes are dirty, his tooth is cracked, and he needs help. He tells the…(Imdb)


Jason Solomons

Screening right at the end of the festival, Jeff Nichols’s film Mud made an urgent late bid for the Palme d’Or. An atmospheric thriller and coming-of-age tale set on a slow bend in the Mississippi river, Mud has the look and feel of an American indie classic. It is a surefire best picture nominee at next year’s Oscars and likely to win some kind of award at Cannes, receiving the warmest applause of the festival at its morning press screening.


Mud takes its name from its lead character, played by Matthew McConaughey, delivering the best performance of his career (and his second at the festival, after The Paperboy) as a fugitive holed up on an island in the Mississippi after murdering a rival for his lover Juniper (Reese Witherspoon). Mud is wanted by the police and bounty hunters hired by the murdered man’s family. He is discovered, however, by two 14-year-old boys, Ellis and Neckbone, who live in houseboats along one of the river’s swampy tributaries. They fall under Mud’s charismatic spell and are talked into helping him rebuild an old motor boat stranded in a treetop – dumped there, one assumes, years before by a flood or a tornado.

The boys are beautifully played by Tye Sheridan (who starred as one of Brad Pitt’s sons in last year’s Palme d’Or winner, The Tree of Life) and Jacob Lofland. The teenagers’ thrill and adventure in secretly aiding Mud gives the film a Huckleberry Finn-ish flavour that blends with something akin to Rob Reiner’s 1986 classic Stand By Me and Charles Laughton’sThe Night of the Hunter. For such an American film, there are also clear echoes of British classics such as Great Expectations and Whistle Down the Wind.

As the net tightens around Mud, Ellis also becomes a go-between, ferrying messages to Juniper as she takes shelter in a motel. Meanwhile, Ellis is also developing a crush on an older girl from his high school, heading for some harsh lessons about the nature of romance.

Writer-director Nichols, working with cinematographer Adam Stone, succeeds in capturing the life and the geography of his locale, its beauty and its dangers, as venomous snakes crawl in the swirling, brown water and local divers fish for oysters and crabs in their own nets. Mud, which also stars Sam Shepard and Michael Shannon, is a very fine film about innocence, father figures and love, a work that manages to be thrilling, unsentimental and emotionally rewarding. This is, sadly, an all too rare combination in so many films, particularly the other American ones that showed in this year’s Cannes competition, making Mud all the more worth the wait.



A boat in a tree; that’s a hell of a thing. At the beginning of Mud, a Mark Twain-ish coming of age fable written and directed by Jeff Nichols, two 14-year-old boys called Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland) discover a flat-bottomed skiff stranded high in a tree, on a small island in the Mississippi delta.

On closer inspection, they find fresh bread and a cache of dirty magazines inside, and realise that it is being used as a treehouse. Its current occupant is Mud (Matthew McConaughey), a wild-haired, chip-toothed stranger whose face and limbs are liberally plastered in his namesake.

Mud spins a story of romance and honour that appeals to the impressionable young Ellis, whose parents’ own rapidly-disintegrating relationship is far from a fairy tale. He is hiding on the island, so he claims, because he is being pursued by bounty hunters and the police after killing a man who attacked his true love, Juniper (Reese Witherspoon). Mud asks the boys to bring him food and equipment that will allow him to bring the boat down from the tree and sail off into the sunset with his sweetheart. Inspired, Ellis agrees to help, but as the boat makes its slow progress from treetops to riverbank and the silty complexities of Mud’s true situation come to light, so the boy’s own idealistic view of love is brought creaking down to earth.

Nichols’ last film, the psychological drama Take Shelter, won the Grand Prix at Critics’ Week at Cannes last year, but this is a broader, more familiar slice of Americana than either that picture or his debut feature Shotgun Stories. This is clearly Nichols’ intention, and there are obvious narrative parallels here with the episode in Twain’s The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn in which Huck finds the escaped slave Jim on an island on the very same river. But towards the end of the film’s unhurried 130 minute running time, particularly in a rote coda involving both a shootout and a dash to the hospital, the familiarity starts to breed contempt.


Inhale (2010) Film. Director : Baltasar Kormákur



Every day, rising Santa Fe District Attorney Paul Stanton and his wife, Diane, wait for word that there’s a donor for their daughter, Chloe. Diagnosed with a rare degenerative condition, Chloe is on a long list to receive a double lung transplant. As her health worsens, Paul becomes desperate to save his young child…so desperate that he’ll risk everything to organize
an operation.

When Paul learns of a Dr. Novarro who performs transplants in Juarez, Mexico, he heads south in a frantic search for the only man who may be able to save Chloe. But after arriving, he realizes Dr. Novarro’s medical ring runs deep into a criminal underworld where his patients aren’t donors – they’re victims. With his career, his family and his life on the line,

Paul finds himself at a critical crossroads: expose a massive, illegal harvesting operation and save the lives of hundreds of children, or save the life of his daughter. –IFC Films


“Inhale” is a well-written, shrewdly produced thriller, but the audience for the film — which centers on an anguished father’s (brilliantly played by Dermot Mulroney) desperate journey to save his daughter’s life — might be limited by the uncomfortable subject matter of illegal organ harvesting.

Director Baltasar Kormakur, the Icelandic filmmaker behind “101 Reykjavik” and “Jar City,” essentially has crossed fiction with documentary filmmaking to expose the worldwide criminal conspiracy to sell organs to medical patients in the West who can afford to pay the price for a lung, kidney or heart. With laws at variance in different countries, some of these dangerous practices aren’t even illegal.

“Inhale” is a most visceral movie, and that includes a few unnecessary sequences in which you get close-ups of a dying child, a shattered leg, a wound being sutured and, finally, human lungs about to be extracted from a still-living being.

The thriller certainly works in a dark palette. Cinematographer Ottar Gudnason shoots the film’s New Mexico landscapes — from desert vistas in suburban Santa Fe to crummy, crime-ridden streets masquerading for Ciudad Juarez across the border — so that most of the color drains away, leaving cool, ominous tones of black and gray. James Newton Howard’s music often features a guitar not only to pick up a local flavor but, again, to establish a mood that is dark with foreboding.

Enormous pressure is bearing down on Santa Fe D.A. Paul Stanton (Mulroney). He is going to court with a case hugely unpopular with the city’s Latino community — always bad for someone who might one day run for elected office, as his friend, gubernatorial candidate James Harrison (Sam Shepard), is quick to point out. Meanwhile, he and his wife, Diane (Diane Kruger), are running out of time in their search for a lung donor for their daughter, Chloe (Mia Stallard).

The screenplay by Walter Doty and John Clafin from a story by Christian Escario keeps twisting the vise that grips these three lives tighter and tighter as the story progresses. When Paul learns he might be able to save his daughter with an illegal transplant in Juarez, he risks his life to plunge deeply into one of the world’s most notorious, crime-infested cities. Life is cheap here, but the organs of life come at a dear price.

The scenes in Juarez, where the ante gets upped seemingly by the minute, have a nearly unbearable intensity. As Chloe’s situation takes a turn for the worse, Paul meets people who are potentially life savers as well as monsters. A mythical Dr. Novarro might not exist or he might be a police chief named Aguilar (Jordi Molla) or compassionate ER doctor Martinez (Vincent Perez).

There also are street gangs in two different age brackets — street kids led by one (Kristyan Ferrer) who carries firearms and finds crafty ways to get money out of the gringo stranger and older, homicidal gangsters more than willing to beat anyone to death.

The final act hits like a gut-punch. Worst fears are confirmed, and the protagonist faces a moral dilemma no father should have to confront. Kormakur and his writers give their protagonist no easy way out. In this compact 83-minute movie, they more than make their case about the illegal sales of human organs within the genre confines of a tightly wound thriller.