This movie has taken way too long to reach the public. (Disregarding that Blockbusters have had it for a while) Shame on Romar for getting rid of it!
Apparently there are two versions of this movie; an original (that has done the rounds on DVD in various countries) and the one that came with the Blockbuster DVD:s (and On Demand). My personal preference lies with the original cut even if nothing story-wise is actually left out in the On Demand/Blockbuster cut. IFC also added a scene at the beginning and at the end that weren't included anywhere in the 2 foreign versions, but it still seems to me the re-editing (and "sanitizing" of language which takes things away from the character's journey and mental deterioration) and the way they inserted the flashback sequences in the film made it much harder to follow. Not to mention foreshadows things a bit too obviously too early into the movie.
Julian McMahon (if you don't watch "Nip/Tuck", surely you remember him from "Charmed" as the half-demon Cole Turner, the true love of Phoebe Halliwell, who won a lot of hearts in his struggle to stay good) really shines in this movie as Derek Plato, an arrogant, selfish prick of a film director, who sees the world through the lens of his camera - even his girlfriend's (played by Dagmara Dominczyk) emotional outburst in the car. Let's face it; he's not a very nice person... and Julian McMahon drives the point home without going overboard.
The main plot circles around how Derek is captured by a mysterious jailer (excellently portrayed by Elias Koteas) while scouting an abandoned prison in Tennessee in preparation for another of his volatile and violent dramas. After being attacked and knocked unconscious, Derek wakes up to find he's been locked up in one of the three death row cells, with the jailer insistently asking him intimate questions concerning the beginning of his career and his relationship with his mother, and his camera. Forcing Derek to face the ghosts of his past and dig up painful childhood memories.
As he refuses to cooperate, Derek is moved closer and closer to the electric chair...
The drama is tight and the actors add to the suspense by the increasing intensity in their characters. The intro alone sets a very creepy mood, but the entire movie is "CREEPY" in the sense Alfred Hitchcock made thrillers; playing mind games rather than throwing violence in your face.
To make one thing clear: This is NOT a "horror" movie.
It does not contain things like non stop improbable chase sequences, constant spectacular explosions, or monsters and splattering gore every couple of seconds - oh, and there isn't a naked female in one single scene either, so if that's what you after; do not buy this film!
(I'm wondering if that's why it never reached the theaters? Which is a shame, because this movie does hold its own without the spectacular bling-bling that seems to be thrown in every other movie these days.)
Prisoner is a psychological thriller that will captivate you and hold you on the edge of your seat all the way up to the very end. I did not see that one coming, and even if I had or if you'd call it a cliché, it was so well done I still get chills thinking about it.
This is a a character piece rather than driven forward by action scenes. Elias Koteas is very believable as the creepy jailer, young David Marshall is fantastic as young Derek and really mimics Julian's mannerisms - especially in one of the key scenes - so that there is no doubt that they are the same person. (Which also is a huge credit to the director!)
And that Julian McMahon can crawl under the skin of deep and complicated characters is beyond doubt. He really makes this movie worth the money and the time spent watching it.