7 Prisoners is a Brazilian drama film directed by Alexandre Moratto with writing by Thayná Mantesso. Mateo (Christian Malheiros) an a crew of other laborers from the countryside think they’ve struck a golden opportunity to make money and support their families back home. But Mr. Luca (Rodrigo Santoro) doesn’t exactly run a clean operation. Mateo quickly learns what the world of human trafficking is like and what little power he, or anybody, has to save himself and the others.
7 Prisoners is a narrow and harrowing film. It feels like it could happen to anybody, because it can, and feels like it could be happening right around the corner in your own city, because it probably is. It doesn’t have an elaborate opening or long descent into the truth of the film. Four young men find themselves desperate for both money and more exciting lives outside of their farms and squalor. So they are quickly and easily fooled by the generous money their new employers are giving them upfront. They don’t worry that it’s too good to be true because they have no reason not to trust them. When Mateo asks about a contract and is told he’ll get one later, he doesn’t like it, but he doesn’t doubt it. The sincerity and ease with which the characters fall in to their circumstances is just so natural that you spend the whole film in constant shock over the tragedy of it all.
7 Prisoners does this thing where it makes you feel so trapped in small quarters even as it flashes through images of São Paulo in its huge and overwhelming glory. It’s suffocating. No matter how much freedom Mateo accumulates during his service to Luca, the close-up shots, close-quarter scenes, and always eery music make the whole hour and a half of the film claustrophobic. It’s what makes everything work just right in the film.
Santoro and Malheiros both play their parts perfectly. Luca is a sleazy fellow, but he’s also played in a deeply empathetic way. He’s repeatedly put into situations where you’re meant to see him as a decent person who has only fallen victim to this system himself, and no matter how much you know rationally that he’s still an awful person, he’s just played so sensitively that you can’t help but grow to like him. And Mateo is the opposite. I don’t particularly like him as a character because he’s so willing to just of along with every demand made of him, including some rather heinous things. You’re meant, in theory, to root for the main character of a story, but as time went on, I stopped worrying about his fate and was primarily interested in the other six prisoners.
Swapping which of the two characters I was endeared with by making Luca more likable than Mateo was a genius way to drive home the film’s ultimate point: that human trafficking is a system perpetuated by individual people who choose to forgo right and wrong to make a profit. The film does a great job reminding viewers that the selfishness of humanity is inevitable but it’s also always derived from somewhere, and in Luca’s case, as with probably many real-life Lucas, it comes from a place you can understand and feel bad for.
I have no complaints to leverage. 7 Prisoners is perfectly paced, perfectly cast, and perfectly counter to any expectations you might have for the story beforehand. It has one of the most thought-provoking premises and conclusions of anything I have watched recently. I wouldn’t describe it as revolutionary or absolutely must-watch, but it is most definitely a strong and tragic story bound to provoke conversations about and awareness of the extend of human trafficking around the world.
7 Prisoners is streaming now on Netflix.
- Rating - 9/109/10
I have no complaints to leverage. 7 Prisoners is perfectly paced, perfectly casted, and perfectly counter to any expectations you might have for the story beforehand. It has one of the most thought-provoking premises and conclusions of anything I have watched recently. I wouldn’t describe it as revolutionary or absolutely must-watch, but it is most definitely a strong and tragic story bound to provoke conversations about and awareness of the extend of human trafficking around the world.