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I wasn't sure where "The Return" was headed for its first hour, and I can't say that I know what the film is fully about because I don't, but it builds to a tense, meaningful finale that strikes a poignant chord. Andrei Zvyagintsev establishes a drab and cold atmosphere that is effectively captured by Mikhail Krichman's exquisite and often beautiful cinematography. It's a quietly haunting tale of courage that can be frustratingly slow at times, but it's well-handled.
"Sgt. Kabukiman N.Y.P.D." has all the hallmarks of a Troma film: campy acting, nudity, gleeful violence, an absurd concept and the fact that it looks like it was written, shot and edited together in a matter of a few weeks. Most of what happens is so far-fetched and idiotic that a portion of the film's overall badness can be overlooked if in the right mood, but not forgiven. What you basically have is a pretty ugly-looking load of nonsense that's chaotic, gross, inane and about as technically adept as your average family home video. It isn't terribly hard to endure, but that's about the only good thing that I have to say about it.
I'm sure I'm not alone in thinking that 'Prisoners' feels like a David Fincher film, specifically 'Zodiac' and 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.' Maybe that's setting expectations too high, but then again, I'm not sure it is because frankly, in terms of quality, 'Prisoners' falls in somewhere right between the two. An unsettling, suspenseful, absorbing, bleakly-lensed crime drama, 'Prisoners' moves at a thoughtful, almost aggravatingly deliberate pace that keeps the clues and twists coming but doesn't bother to let us in on what's going on until we're more than halfway in. It is a film about moral dilemma; about evil manifesting itself in those who try their best to vanquish it. More often than not, films with such cumbersome thematic material end up coming across as preachy or heavy-handed, but 'Prisoners' doesn't and manages to navigate its labyrinth-like narrative without being crushed under the weight of its subject matter. As well, the performances, the cinematography, the writing, the direction - it's all there and in pristine condition. The two and a half-hour running time is nothing to fear; I left wishing that it would have been twice as long. 'Prisoners' is very much first-rate entertainment, and films like it are the reasons why I love cinema so much.
Many argue that Alan J. Pakula's theatrical treatment of 'Sophie's Choice' was a miscalculation, but I'm not convinced that it was. Of course, the film feels longer than it is, and Pakula's style contributes to this, but he also gives the dialogue scenes an added emotional weight that makes the outcome as powerful as it is. Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline and (to a certain extent) Peter MacNicol give remarkable performances, and they're the real reason to give the film a watch. My opinions about the directional and photographical choices are mixed, but I was moved by 'Sophie's Choice,' and that's what counts.