Brian Cox plays low-key notes as regretful father in ‘Prisoner’s Daughter’

In sharply drawn drama, ‘Succession’ star plays a former prisoner and alcoholic desperate to reconnect with his child (Kate Beckinsale).

SHARE Brian Cox plays low-key notes as regretful father in ‘Prisoner’s Daughter’
A broke single mom (Kate Beckinsale) takes in her dying father (Brian Cox), newly released on house arrest, in “Prisoner’s Daughter.”

A broke single mom (Kate Beckinsale) takes in her dying father (Brian Cox), newly released on house arrest, in “Prisoner’s Daughter.”

Vertical

Catherine Hardwicke’s sharply drawn, slow-simmer domestic drama “Prisoner’s Daughter” has the cool vibe of an indie film from a generation ago, from the lived-in look of the Vegas sets to the authentic performances of the terrific cast.

Brian Cox stars as Max, a career criminal with terminal cancer who has been given the opportunity for a humanitarian, house-arrest release under one condition: He has to stay with his estranged daughter, Maxine (Kate Beckinsale).

Maxine wants nothing to do with her father and isn’t even particularly sympathetic to his condition — but she reluctantly agrees to take him in because he’s got some money stashed away, and she’s drowning in debt after losing her primary job as a waitress because her strung-out and violent ex, Tyler (Tyson Ritter), showed up at work and punched her manager in the nose. With Maxine’s precocious 12-year-old son Ezra (Christopher Convery) needing expensive medication for his epilepsy and no other options on the table, Maxine allows Max to return to her home — the home where she grew up with an alcoholic mother and an alcoholic father who was an enforcer for a mobster.

It’s an admittedly contrived setup, but Mark Bacci’s screenplay is filled with realistic dialogue and just the right sprinkling of humor and humanity. Max calls in a favor with his shady former associates and gets free restoration work done on the house, and he enlists the help of his best friend, boxing trainer Hank (the great Ernie Hudson), to teach self-defense to Ezra, who is regularly bullied at school.

‘Prisoner’s Daughter’

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Vertical presents a film directed by Catherine Hardwicke and written by Mark Bacci. Running time: 100 minutes. Rated R (for language and some violence). Now showing at local theaters.

(Amid all the heartwarming and sometimes borderline corny stuff, Max has a moment with Hank when he says his brain is so clouded by years of alcohol abuse, he can’t remember how terrible he was. You were bad, says Hank. Really bad. Such moments save “Prisoner’s Daughter” from delving into “Afterschool Special” territory.)

Cox (“Succession”) can be a ferociously overpowering screen presence, but he actually hits more low-key notes — quite effectively — as Max, who has been sober for years, helped a lot of younger inmates in prison and is truly a changed man who wants desperately to make a connection with his daughter, and his grandson, before it’s too late.

Kate Beckinsale, who played a similar role to devastatingly powerful effect in the vastly underrated “Snow Angels” (2007), does some of the finest work of her career as Maxine. Beckinsale has a great and natural mother-son rhythm with the talented young Christopher Convery, and she shifts gears when she delivers a long, heartbreaking, blistering diatribe reminding her father that no matter how many acts of kindness and contrition he performs now, there’s nothing he can do to erase the endless years of abandonment and mistreatment she endured.

Director Hardwicke, who made her bones with independent gems such as “Thirteen” and “Lords of Dogtown” in the 2000s before moving onto to big-scale projects such as “Twilight” and “Red Riding Hood,” returns to those roots with this sharply polished and consistently involving work.

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