When two neighbouring families each have a young daughter disappear, one of the fathers (played by Hugh Jackman) decides that the police detective on the case (Jake Gyllenhaal) is taking the investigation in the wrong direction. He decides to go after a suspect himself. ‘Prisoners’ is atmospheric and suspenseful and features a Gordian Knot of contradictory clues. The film is punctuated with considerable violence, but the mayhem is not the point of the complex plot. The plot is like a whirlpool. The more it twists the deeper it goes and the darker it gets until it has the same sense of dread as had ‘Zodiac’ and ‘SE7EN’. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10.
It is Thanksgiving Day and the family of carpenter Keller Dover (played by Hugh Jackman) is having the holiday dinner with their friends the Birches, headed by Franklin (Terrence Howard). Each family has a teen-ager and the two are friends and each has a daughter in the six-year-old age range. The two little girls go off to go to the Dover home and simply totally disappear. Of course, there are the scenes of frantic searches and Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) is assigned the case. The solitary Loki is a really good detective who has never failed to solve a case. Still, he has constant friction between him and his superior. (I could have done without this cliché.) The police find a strange RV that was seen in the neighbourhood before the girls disappeared. It was driven by Alex Jones, a retarded man with the IQ of a ten year-old. Paul Dano plays Alex, still carrying the creepiness he earned himself in ‘There Will Be Blood’. Keller is convinced that Jones has abducted the two girls and knows where they are. He devises a plan to force the information from Alex.
‘Prisoners’ is not just a film about conflicting people. It is a film with competing genres. It could turn out to be a film with a strong anti-vigilante message. It could be human story of how different people react to loss and fear. It might be a complex suspense mystery or it could turn out to be an action thriller, but it would be hard to make it all four. Director Denis Villeneuve keeps the viewer guessing just where he is going with the film. Aaron Guzikowski’s script in the hands of Villeneuve has to balance these genres and not let any suffer too much. Where they are going with the story will depend on which genre they choose. Perhaps that just adds to the suspense of the film.
Villeneuve, a French-Canadian, works overtime to give Keller strong Americana principles. Keller hunts deer and brings his son along hunting. The carpenter tries to inculcate him with survivalist values such as ’Pray for the best, prepare for the worst’. When the occasion arises, he is quick to pray out loud. Villeneuve does everything but model the Thanksgiving dinner on Norman Rockwell.
The entire dark plot unfolds under constantly dismal Pennsylvania skies which set the tone for the entire film.
‘Prisoners’ features several good actors even in some lesser roles including Terrence Howard, Viola Davis, and Maria Bello. The film gets a strong performance from the rage-filled Hugh Jackman, just following his strong performance in ‘Les Miserables’.
In this film, you may not like where the story is going, but you are compelled to go with it. In the end the territory turns out disappointingly familiar, but the ride to that point is gripping.
I rate it +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.
Film Credits: Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis, Maria Bello and Terrance Jones
Mark R. Leeper
© Mark R. Leeper 2013