Starring: Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Paul Dano, Terrence Howard, Viola Davis, Maria Bello, Melissa Leo
Directed by: Denis Villeneuve
Child kidnapping is not a new subject in cinema, and so it isn’t enough for a film to just be about that, and so Prisoners works well in trying to tell a deeper story, showing the effect missing children has on people’s humanity, not only of the parents’.
The film centres around Hugh Jackman, playing married father of two, Keller Dover, whose daughter, Anna (Erin Gerasimovich), goes missing on Thanksgiving, along with her friend, Joy (Kyla Drew Simmons), the daughter of their friends, Franklin and Nancy, who live down the street, played by Terrence Howard and Viola Davis. Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) has a suspect almost straight away, in the form of a troubled and disturbed man, Alex Jones (Paul Dano), but lack of evidence leads to him being released. Convinced that Jones is the man who took the two girls, Keller takes matters into his own hands to find out where they are, as Detective Loki struggles with the case.
Though the daughters of two separate families are taken, the main focus is on the Dover family, mostly because Hugh Jackman’s character goes through a more significant change. The film also focuses more on the Detective, Jake Gyllenhaal’s character, than Terrence Howard and Viola Davis, which is quite interesting. In a way, the development of Jackman and Gyllenhaal’s characters are pretty similar in how the kidnapping and the case causes them to unravel, but while the Detective unravels sort of within the constraints of humanity and civilisation, Keller’s decline is much stronger, and more animalistic, despite being a religious man, the kind who says the Lord’s Prayer before shooting a deer. It is these two performances that really carry the film. Both characters need this desperation, which both Gyllenhaal and Jackman get just right, keeping Keller and Loki just shy of alienating their audience. There is one incredibly frustrating moment though, with Jake Gyllenhaal’s character, where the audience can see the answer literally staring them in the face for a good 5 or 10 minutes, but Detective Loki is just not catching on. I understand that logically, and for the performance, he needed the time to naturally get to that moment, but because the audience have already clocked on, the whole scene should have played out much quicker.
The other brilliant performance of the film is Paul Dano’s, as Alex Jones. I don’t want to say much about it, for fear of spoiling the film, but there’s an image of just his eye that is engraved in my mind. I think his performance will be overlooked, because of how good the two leads are, but Dano deserves some recognition. Maria Bello, who plays Hugh Jackman’s wife, and the parents of the other girl, Terrence Howard and Viola Davis, don’t get nearly enough screen time, and though the film is fairly long as it is (2 hours and 33 minutes), if it had been longer to give more focus to Joy’s family as well, the film would not have suffered as a whole.
David Fincher’s Zodiac is my benchmark when it comes to stressful and intense thrillers, the basement scene in that with Jake Gyllenhaal literally had my biting my nails, even though I’ve never had that habit, so anything that comes close to it, is quite successfully thrilling in my opinion. The basement scene in Prisoners reminded me of that moment a lot. I don’t necessarily think Fincher’s and Villeneuve’s styles are that similar, but cinematic brilliance can allow for overlap.
I don’t know if come the end of the year I’ll think this is one of the best things I will have seen in the last 12 months, but it is definitely one of the most genuinely thrilling films released in 2013, and possibly one of the more successful in doing and saying what it wanted to. The pacing is a little odd, but I don’t think anyone would get bored, despite it’s long running time. There are many reasons to see it, it’s well made from a technical point of view, the story is good, and as I’ve mentioned, the performances are excellent. It is definitely worth your money and time.
Prisoners is out Friday September 27th in the UK.