Written by Guillermo Troncoso.
Every parent’s worst nightmare: having their child kidnapped. The fallout from this horrible scenario is explored in this exhausting and dark thriller from director Denis Villeneuve (Incendies).
Two couples are understandably shaken and deeply affected when their daughters are suddenly kidnapped. Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) is called in to lead the investigation. When the lead suspect, Alex Jones (Paul Dano), is released due to a lack of evidence, distraught father Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) decides to take matters into his own hands.
Prisoners is by no means an easy watch. Villeneuve aims to shake the viewer, while getting them thinking. What would you do in such a situation? Are there particular scenarios in which crossing certain moral boundaries becomes somewhat acceptable? At what point does one become void of their humanity?
There’s no question; this is top-notch filmmaking that will affect most viewers in one way or another. The uneasy sense of dread and tension is unleashed from the very first moment we see a mysterious R.V. driving slowly through suburban streets. Neither flashy nor quick edited, the tense and disturbing proceedings are unveiled calmly and forcefully, a nail-biting approach that drags out the viewer’s uneasiness for all it’s worth. Villenueve films in a stylish, straight-forward format that benefits from the work of master cinematographer Roger Deakins (The Shawshank Redemption, No Country for Old Men, Skyfall). Every moment is amplified by great filmmaking and truly fantastic performances.
In one of his best ever roles, Hugh Jackman is devastating as Keller Dover, a desperate father blindly determined to find his daughter. Almost unbearably exhausting, Jackman gives a relentless portrayal of a man skating on thin ice, both morally and mentally. While we’re not necessarily meant to be siding with his character, his heartbreaking performance ensures that we at least understand what’s driving his drastic decisions.
Jake Gyllenhaal is equally impressive. While he doesn’t have the obvious external releases of emotion that Dover has, Detective Loki is a carefully crafted character that feels incredibly real. Gyllenhaal gives the character important detailed traits; whether it be his interesting blinking twitch or the tattoos that suggest a troubled upbringing. These two actors bring such dramatic power to the big screen that the film just wouldn’t hit home without them.
The supporting cast, that includes Terrance Howard, Viola Davis, Maria Bello and Melissa Leo, are also fantastic. Paul Dano, while having more of a one-note character to contend with, manages to bring a level of depth to a disturbed man with the I.Q. of a ten-year-old child.
Aaron Guzikowski’s screenplay is certainly of a high standard, but it begins to feel unnecessarily bloated as the film progresses. The plot seems to drag on as every new development is introduced; tiring out the viewer long before the finale rolls around. Basically, there aren’t enough plot twists to justify the film’s length and certain developments seem to play a little too far on the safe side. Almost scared to simply go for it, Prisoners shies away from what could have been some hard-hitting emotional punch lines.
Contrivances and coincidences also begin to pile up. As characters appear and disappear at irritatingly convenient moments, it becomes a little frustrating. Especially when the film is so effective overall.
Prisoners is a tense dramatic-thriller that packs a wallop. The twists and turns of the investigation may not stand up very highly upon close scrutiny and the film seems to teeter on the edge of gutsier conclusions, but this film still hits home pretty hard. A nightmare for parents, this will also have everyone else sweating and emotionally exhausted come the end credits.
THE REEL SCORE: 8/10