Keller Dover’s daughter and her friend go missing and he takes matters into his own hands as the police pursue multiple leads and the pressure mounts. Prisoners is a twisting thriller that is as good as the genre has produced in years.
Writer: Aaron Guzikowski
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Stars: Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Paul Dano, Viola Davis
Run time/Rating: 153 Minutes/ R
Popcorn Score: Large Popcorn
A great script only turns into an amazing movie when the directing, acting, editing, set, sound and number of other factors are executed with equivalent greatness. “Prisoners” has that greatness in most areas making it near flawless and one of the best crime thrillers in years.
The story focuses on the aftermath of 2 young girls who are kidnapped from their neighborhood on Thanksgiving Day. The fathers of the two girls are devout Christian and survivalist Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) and his neighbor and friend Frank Birch (Terrence Howard). Both families are thrust into the torture of their children being abducted. When it is learned that there was an eerie young man named Alex Jones (Paul Dano) suspiciously parked in the neighborhood with his old shabby RV the police think they have found the man who committed the crime. Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) who is the suburban police department’s star brings the creepy young man in for questioning but after his interrogation and the physical evidence comes up empty he is forced to let the man go.
This release is not adequate for Keller Dover, who earlier in the movie during a hunting trip with his oldest son warns that you must always be ready to take matters into your own hands in order to survive, so he hunts the creepy youn man down who we learn has the mind of a ten year old and locks him up in an old apartment building in order to get the information he wants. The search for the girls continues for days on two fronts, detective Loki pursuing every lead he comes across, as well as the now vigilante father beating and torturing his prisoner in order to gain information. The script twists and turns in mazelike fashion introducing a snake loving 2nd suspect as well as a drunken former priest with skeletons in his closet who both play a part in solving the puzzle. I was warned of a big twist at the end of this but I still never saw coming what this masterful script had in store.
The movie is strengthened by the bland look of the Pennsylvanian suburb. Set in the week following Thanksgiving, super-cinematographer Roger Deakins (Shawshank, Skyfall, almost all Cohen Brother Films) uses the wetness and death of nature in the late Fall to decorate his shots. Dennis Villenueve as the director I imagine reeled in the cast just enough to not make the movie too melodramatic at times – although this intensity could be considered a fault of the film in some particularly heavy points.
Hugh Jackman gives a performance of his career as the aggravated father who easily could have become a very disliked character if he hadn’t shown such internal reluctance along with his pinpointed drive to find his daughter. The supporting cast fills in nicely doing exactly what you would expect in this caliber of a movie. Jake Gyllenhaal is perfect as the determined detective. His choice to give his character a small facial twitch is something that brought some realism to the character if not being a bit distracting at times.
My biggest critique of the movie is that it could be just a little tighter. I hate the idea of taking a movie that was very good and strengthening it by making less of it, but with 20 to 30 minutes shaved off it might have been better attended, received and be considered as an Academy Award nomination in the same haunting/thriller type class as a movie like Silence of the Lambs. As it stands, even as intriguing and engaging as is it, it leaves you checking your watch once more than you should have to. The other issue is that without even thinking about it too hard there are a number of plot holes that would more than likely debunk the whole investigation before it starts, but they were all innocent enough for me to look past while on such a thrilling ride.
Prisoners is a long shot to be a movie you’ll need to see in order to vote for best picture this year, but I would think that Hugh Jackman or Jake Gyllenhaal have a chance to represent one or both of the Acting categories. Whether any of that happens or not, I still recommend checking out Prisoners as soon as you have a chance because 1st class, smart thrillers like this do not come around very often.