Prisoners – Movie Review

How far would you go to save someone you love? Quantum Dream’s Heavy Rain asks this same question, and I couldn’t help but draw a handful of comparisons to the hit PS3 game while watching Denis Villeneuve’s crime thriller appropriately titled Prisoners, starring Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Terrence Howard, Paul Dano and Melissa Leo. Talk about a movie that just appeared out of nowhere. Given its track record at the 2013 Toronto Film Festival, it’s no wonder critics are eating this film up. And to my astounding daze, I ate it up too. When the film wanted to be haunting, it did just that. When it wanted to be emotional, it showed no restraint. The film accomplished its main goal, which was to be a suspenseful ride that made for a very meaningful motion picture. But I wouldn’t go so far to say that it seizes any chance to do anything particularly new for the crime thriller genre.

Aaron Guzikowski’s screenplay follows Keller (Jackman) and Grace Dover (Maria Bello), whose family is invited for a bittersweet thanksgiving get-together over at the Birch’s (Terrence Howard and Viola Davis). Things turn amiss however when both of the families’ youngest daughters disappear unexpectedly. After frantic searching around the neighborhood, the worried parents contact the police, and Detective Loki (Gyllenhaal) is put on the case to find them. Once suspect Alex Jones (Dano) is released after questioning in regards to their disappearance, Keller, convinced Alex is responsible, takes it upon himself to kidnap the culprit, and beats and tortures the information out of him. Followed is a string of clues, suspects and depressing scenes that unravel the hidden nature of what humans are capable of.

Paul Dano as the soft-spoken and inarticulate Alex Jones, tied to a radiator.

Hugh Jackman does a damn good job in this film, giving one of the most poignant performances I’ve seen of his work. He was believable in the role of a heartbroken, religious man reaching for the light, yet constantly brought down by his inner darkness that’s turning him into something far worse than the child molester. A 180 from the musical and action-packed  Jackman we’re used to. And mad props to Melissa Leo as Alex Jones’ aunt, who is not only playing a character that is much older than her again, but sells it as a sincere and protective woman. No one in this movie sleepwalks, so that’s a bonus in my book.

Melissa Leo and Paul Dano listening to the detective.

Prisoners is well paced, masterfully shot, and lets its quiet moments sink in. I also find the film’s score to be quite chilling. But as much as I hate being that guy, this movie is predictable from a mile away. I’ve done my best to hide any hints in this review, but I was met with no surprises when the final reveal and showdown came into play. It might be because I’ve seen a lot of films that follow this structure, but don’t feel bad if you see what’s coming. The movie also rides that fine line between indie thriller and hollywood-thriller. There would be admirable scenes where characters are silent and let the cold, dark atmosphere sweep over the audience, and then there would be scenes where I’d keep questioning why Detective Loki was playing hero and wouldn’t ever call for back-up. And while I do think Prisoners can indeed affect an audience emotionally, I find that the film’s messages about what a prisoner is, given the subject matter, just aren’t as strong to question an audience, and that’s mainly because it doesn’t do anything particularly different. But nonetheless, I very much enjoyed it as a whole, and would certainly recommend to anyone who is curious or loves Mr. Jackman. Let us know what you thought of it in the comments.

4 out of 5