I love it when a film takes me completely by surprise. I had been intrigued by Prisoners just from the cast alone, but didn't know whether it would be more than a standard, generic thriller. Then I heard some pretty positive word of mouth. Sitting down to view it, little did I know just what I was in store for. It was excellent.
Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) and his friend Franklin (Terrence Howard) and their families are spending a pleasant Thanksgiving together. Until their daughters disappear outside to play and suddenly go missing. I want to describe the film more, but – honestly – the less you know going into it, the better. Suffice it to say, Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) desperately tries to track down the girls while Keller enacts his own breed of justice, pursuing the person he believes is the prime suspect – Alex Jones (Paul Dano), a mentally challenged young man.
Jackman is in fine form here. He sort of has one speed, but it's a full throttle one. Watching his progressive, obsessive breakdown which pushes him to do all that is necessary to find out where his daughter is (including abducting and torturing someone for days on end), is both riveting and harrowing. Overflowing with empathy and intensity, Jackman flat-out kills it here. Gyllenhaal turns in what I'd argue might be one of his best performances, infusing Loki with a pragmatic sense of authority, a skeptical and dissecting eye and a sympathetic plight – even when he's technically an adversary to Jackman, at times. He makes Loki one of the more charismatic detective characters I've seen in awhile. Dano is great as well and shines in a role that doesn't really allow him to speak much. A very nuanced turn from the talented actor (although this character is sort of his wheelhouse, to be fair).
Aaron Guzikowski's script is a deftly written, densely layered and pensive procedural. The entire story takes place roughly over the span of a week, and the progression of time is meticulously layed out, and actually feels, for the most part, tangible. And the deconstruction of the characters' morale, resolve and morality is fascinating, as we watch most everyone crumble before our very eyes. No one here walks away from this story unchanged.
The cinematography is gorgeous. But that's to be expected from Roger Deakins, who is unquestionably one of the greatest directors of photography working in the business today. A grim, yet hauntingly beautiful image landscape. There's a reason it's nominated for Best Cinematography at this year's Oscars.
I was way more excited to see Prisoners when I found out it was directed by the guy who made Maelstrom, a rarely seen gem that I absolutely love. Denis Villeneuve crafts his film as a very meticulous and patient thriller. There is an excellent sense of time progression here, and you can feel the tension ratchet across the narrative's week-long span. In focusing a full two-and-a-half hours on just a handful of days' events, as opposed to, say, a 10-year case, we get an almost pressure-cooker type analysis of desperation, panic and devastation as everyone races to find the missing children.
What's more impressive is that despite the film's length, I never felt it dragged at all. I won't say it's a quick 153 minutes, but it's definitely not a languid or tedious film. Emotions run pretty high throughout, and personally I found the film to be particularly harrowing. Parents are going to have trouble watching this one.
I highly recommended this movie as it's one of the better currently available options to spend your movie night at home on. Somewhat like the also excellent (and admittedly superior) Zodiac (also starring Gyllenhaal), it's sort of like a serial killer epic – but swap out the mass murdering for child abduction. One of the better films of 2013, and a film that I think will only grow to be appreciated more as time goes by.
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
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