Prisoners

Prisoners photo starrating-3andahalfstars.jpgPrisoners is a tale of a grief-stricken father that decides to take the law into his own hands when his 6 year old daughter goes missing. Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) and his wife (Maria Bello) are enjoying a Thanksgiving dinner at their neighbors, who have a 6 year old daughter as well. After dinner the two girls go outside the home to play but they do not return. With their children missing, this leads them to Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) who has never had an unsolved case. Suspects are questioned, leads are followed and the trail runs cold.

Prisoners has been marketed as a thriller with Hugh Jackman as the angry father at the center. He is key, but there is a dual protagonist with Jake Gyllenhaal as the beleaguered detective attempting to figure out a difficult case. Jackman is competent in expressing Dover’s rage borne out of anger and frustration. He is a rough-hewn Christian survivalist who works as a carpenter with various materials at his disposal. Despite the fact that few would follow down the same dark path, his vigilante methods are somewhat understandable given what he has endured. He’s certainly effective at engendering our sympathy as the devastated father out for revenge. However the real surprise here is Jake Gyllenhaal. He perfectly embodies the kind of world weary, but stern personality of a policeman. He’s exceptional and his focus provides a ray of hope throughout the oppressive milieu. To say that Prisoners is dour is an understatement. This is every parents worst nightmare. The subject is decidedly grim and the production has visuals to match. Cinematographer Roger Deakins complements the depressing atmosphere of a cold Pennsylvania winter. The bleak rain-soaked suburb is highlighted by a palette of washed out blues and grays that enhances the drama unfolding on screen.

Prisoners is a nifty bit of writing that genuinely grabs the audience’s curiosity. By slowly releasing tidbits of information, we assemble the puzzle as the principals do on screen. There is definite interest in trying to decipher the “whodunit” mystery. This is Canadian film director Denis Villanueva’s (Incendies) rendering of an original script by Aaron Guzikowski. He does a good job. One vignette that begins with Jake Gyllenhaal trailing Hugh Jackman’s footsteps is masterfully composed. Indeed the most compelling moments are not boffo set pieces but well acted interplays between key people. Though a discovery involving some snakes is pretty memorable. If I have a quibble it’s that the plot is overly focused on revenge but then that thread doesn‘t yield a satisfying denouement. Perhaps the filmmakers were afraid to imply that torture gets results. Plus the 153 minute running time could’ve been tightened up a bit. We probably didn’t need so many scenes of angry Hugh Jackman. Overall Villanueva does a brilliant job of presenting the procedural story in such a way that we might be able to piece things together ourselves. Although I must admit I personally didn’t solve the answer before it was revealed. Prisoners isn’t perfect, but Guzikowski’s screenplay is intelligent, credible and engaging. That begets a recommendation in my book.

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23 Responses to “Prisoners”

  1. Excellently reviewed. You’re right: anything over 2 and a half hours better have some serious justification to back that up. . .case in point this ain’t no period piece or a monumentally important biopic or anything. It’s a psychological thriller. Given that, I was still surprised at how tense the film remained for most of that and it kept me guessing until the very end. Performances were just top notch. Not really an Oscar contender, but this marks the start of hopefully a great run in the fall!

    • Zero Dark Thirty is an example of a recent film that was even longer but I didn’t notice because it maintained interest throughout. Still I enjoyed the way the mystery unfolded in Prisoners.

  2. I am going to try to see this soon, and drop you a comment what I think. Good review! 🙂

      • GaryLee828 Says:

        Okay, I finally made it to the theater and saw this. Surprisingly, the movie flew by. It actually didn’t feel like 2 & a 1/2 hours. Overall, I thought it was pretty good. I also didn’t put things together before the reveal at the end. There were some things I felt went unexplained, particularly about Detective Loki’s character, but it wasn’t significant enough to take away from the story as a whole. I think I agree with your 3 & a 1/2 star rating.

      • We didn’t learn a whole lot about Detective Loki. He was something of an enigma but I kind of liked the mystery so I was okay with that as well.

  3. Sounds like this is worth a watch. Although I am finding the idea of anyone called Detective Loki kind of funny…

  4. Good review Mark. While it isn’t the happiest movie ever made, it’s definitely one of the more tense ones I’ve seen in quite some time. Even when it does get a tad bit dumb at the near-end.

    • I found it kind of amusing that we leisurely spend so much time on scenes with Hugh Jackman getting angry and then it has one of those BAM it’s over endings which is short and sweet. More editing like that would’ve made this good thriller great.

  5. Mark we both gave it 3.5/5 stars for much the same reasons. I figured it out just before the reveal but was a hair away early on. Quite ingenious in the clues for the detective and the viewer. I hope people don’t ruin the ending. My review in in my Facebook Notes set public for all.

  6. i thought Ransom (with Mel Gibson) was very thrilling.

    which of the two is more effective, albeit their predicament differences? – Prisoners or Ransom?

  7. Great review, Mark! One of my most anticipated films of the year. That cast is irresistible and I love this type of harrowing drama, even if they’re difficult to watch.

    • The cast looks incredible on paper. But this is a story mainly focused on Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal. Terrence Howard, Melissa Leo and Paul Dano are able to grab a few key scenes from those two. Viola Davis and Maria Bello aren’t given a whole lot to do, but they do wonders with their parts.

  8. I really liked this movie. Yes, it was a little long, but I didn’t mind. I love thrillers that keep you guessing. I did not expect the ending to be so shocking. Fooled me. It is definitely worth watching. 3 1/2 stars.

  9. I’m glad you liked this movie. It’s one of those movies like ‘The Impossible’ one that goes in a simple, formulaic pattern but does that pattern so well it’s worth commending. Nothing new, and flawed, but enjoyed it very much the same.

    http://www.citizenmovies.wordpress.com

  10. robyn g Says:

    Great review, Mark! Hugh Jackman scared the SH*T out of me EVERYTIME he was on the screen (except for the holiday meal scenes). You’re so right that a couple of less “angry Hugh” scenes would have greatly improved the movie, ESPECIALLY the torture scenes 😠 Still thought HJ really dug deep down &
    NAILED it. Thought he was better than in “Les Mis”, and for me that’s saying something as I still believe that movie could have NEVER been made without him.

    • I’m a big fan of Hugh Jackman. Looking forward to seeing him in Joe Wright’s Pan this Summer. He also has a very small part in Chappie which comes out this weekend.

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