Studio: Image Entertainment
Director: Gaurav Seth
Writer: Gaurav Seth
Producer: Avi Federgreen, Robyn Bigue
Stars: Michelle Nolden, Romano Orzari, Damon Runyan, Julian Richings, Nigel Bennett, Stewart Arnott, Gianpaolo Venuta, Jim Codrington
With the entire world on the brink of war, a CIA agent must break a captured terrorist suspected of being a time traveler.
In the first five minutes of “Prisoner X,” a man smuggling uranium into the United States crashes his car, gets captured, and is subsequently interrogated by two men from the CIA. Then within the span of just one movie minute, curious blood work results and the fortuitous prediction of an astronomical explosion cause the agents to conclude they aren’t only dealing with a terrorist. They have a time traveler on their hands.
Although that one minute actually encompasses two months, it’s jarring how quickly everyone accepts such an improbable circumstance. On the other hand, it’s refreshing that “Prisoner X” doesn’t want to waste time convincing you to come to the same conclusion in real time with its characters. The movie straight up says, “here is the premise we are working with, get on board and go with it.” With this, “Prisoner X” provides fair warning to pay close attention. Because the film’s slowly built suspense comes at you surprisingly fast.
After 15 years in custody, Fischer is closer to uncovering Ramiro’s endgame, but not close enough. It’s 2017 and bombings all over the world have paranoid countries readying for war with each other. Fischer knows Ramiro is integral to exposing a supposed network of time-traveling radicals believed to be responsible for the devastation. He merely needs another mind to take him all the way there.
That’s where Carmen comes in. On a leave of absence from the CIA since her family was killed in a catastrophic power plant attack, Carmen isn’t anxious to get back to work. Nonetheless, it’s hard to say no to a direct order from the president.
Carmen arrives at the underground base to play Clarice Starling to Ramiro’s Hannibal Lecter. She quickly realizes that Ramiro isn’t the only person keeping secrets regarding Project Sigma. More than one mystery is clearly in play, and uncovering the identity of the mastermind is key to keeping the terrorist plot from blanketing the planet in nuclear winter.
Based on the novella “Truth” by Robert Reed, “Prisoner X” combines the Samuel L. Jackson thriller “Unthinkable” with the sci-fi setup of “Predestination” (review here). Powered predominately by tense character confrontations and conversations, most of the story is told rather than expressly shown. Yet terrific performances from a troupe of under-the-radar Canadian talents create intrigue through acting alone.
Romano Orzari puts pinches of Jeremy Irons into cultured Islamic terrorist Ramiro. Michelle Nolden calls to mind Cate Blanchett in the confidently collected way she embodies Carmen. Julian Richings, Canada’s answer to Lance Henriksen, rounds out the top trio with the usual tone of uncertain allegiance he brings to his shifty supporting characters.
Admiration is in order for any low-budget indie that can smartly execute big ideas, even when limited by small scope. That is precisely what “Prisoner X” does.
Almost the entire movie takes place within the concrete confines of an underground bunker. These grey walls aren’t visually welcoming in the least. Then again, the story is tailored to exist in a slim, grim environment occupied by only a handful of people. It’s hard to fault a film for fitting within an affordably simple frame when that is all its fiction requires.
Being a dialogue-driven movie with a time travel theme, “Prisoner X” isn’t too complicated to keep up with. However, new information comes constantly, so your mind is forbidden from wandering for even a brief moment. At the same time, the script thinks enough of your intelligence to not hold your hand with over-explained exposition, nor does it cheat to confuse anyone unfairly in an effort to be overly clever.
For a movie throwing a lot of details at an audience, it could be more selective about what gets loaded into the viewer’s brain. Some red herrings are overly distracting. A big deal will be made out of a certain possibility through repeated mentions only for it to be explained away later with one simple sentence (Jim and the hallway room, for example). Several such story screws could stand another tightening turn, though the plot plays out believably enough overall.
The production itself doesn’t have the bang to captivate through action or eye candy. But the film stays engaging through an entertaining story solidly sold by a convincing cast. It may even take the entire 85 minutes to realize that “Prisoner X” accomplishes so much with so little. That fact earns an approving checkmark in any indie genre fan’s book.
Review Score: 75