Director: Denis Villenuve
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Terrence Howard, Maria Bello, Viola Davis, Paul Dano, Melissa Leo
Written by: Aaron Guzikowski
Running Time: 152 mins
Release date: 27th September 2013
It must be terrible for a parent to have their child abducted. The mental anguish involved, as you cling onto hope must be unbearable. This is the subject matter to Denis Villeneuve’s powerful and shocking thriller, Prisoners and how the events can make a simple working man do things he would never dream of doing.
It’s Thanksgiving and Keller Dover and his family are celebrating with their neighbours, the Birch’s. Their two young daughters head back to the Dover’s house for a whistle. They disappear. Frantically the search begins for the two youngsters. A suspect is found by Detective Loki, driving an RV parked in the Dover’s street. Alex Jones, a simple young man with the IQ of a 10 year old is the prime suspect but there’s no evidence pointing to him being the man who kidnapped them. The police, powerless, have to release him without charge. Keller, so insensed with this decision, decides to take the law into his own hands, and hold Jones prisoner and driving to acts of desperations while Loki tries to keep the investigation going as it takes deeper and darker turns.
Villenuve’s film is an uncomfortable piece, full of dark emotions, scenes of shocking brutality and more twists than a corkscrew. It’s an accomplished film added by the brilliant cinematography of Roger Deakins, who brings an uneasy feeling throughout the film with his use of dark or grey lighting.
While the subject matter is bleak enough as it is, it would be very easy for the film to sensationalise the events, which it manages to stay clear of. Villenuve’s solid direction gives it a feel of one of those Scananavian thrillers like The Killing, while it also has echoes of Zodiac. Some of the twists work extremely well, others are a little too obvious and one is included in a rather cliched moment of anger being taken out on a desk to lead to a look at a throw away photo.
The strength lies in the performances, all of which from an extremely experienced cast, are excellent. Hugh Jackman, still smiling from last year’s Oscar nomination, looks like he’s going to get another as the troubled Keller, a man who shows his true feelings, no matter how violent they can be. Jake Gyllenhaal is also on fine form as Loki, a cop who has solved every case he’s ever been involved in and he sure as hell won’t give up now. His facial ticks giving the character a little more depth than normal.
While the leads are on fine form, they have strong, showy part. The real strength lies in the supporting cast, especially Terrence Howard and Viola Davis, as the couple who also lose a child but refuse to go down the same path as Keller, even though they don’t condone his actions, These are subtle performances that grab hold more of the heartstrings than Jackman and Gyllenhaal. As does Maria Bello as Keller’s wife, a performance that is just gut wrenching and deserves more attention than she is getting.
Finally there’s Paul Dano, who has built a career out of playing outsiders. His is surprisingly sympathetic as the simple man who may or may not be involved with the crime. It is a quietly assured performance if a little creepy too.
This is a mature, adult thriller that deals with a strong subject matter in a mature manner. It’s not perfect by any means. At 152 minutes long, it does slightly outstay its welcome and it also has far too many contrived moments to push the story along, instead of letting it move by itself.
Having said that, it is still incredibly gripping, with an air of tension like no other film in recent memory and the ending will have you talking long after it is over. You can tell we have entered the award season already as quality seems to be coming out than the dire nonsense that this Summer produced. If you can stomach the subject matter, some very brutal scenes of violence and the odd little hiccup along the way, then you will have a very satisfying experience with this film. Just don’t expect all sweetness and light, it’s very grueling.