WRITTEN BY: Aaron Guzikowski
DIRECTED BY: Denis Villeneuve
STARRING: Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Paul Dano, Melissa Leo, Viola Davis, Maria Bello, Terrance Howard
RATING: 5 stars
Every parent's worst nightmare is the thought of their child being kidnapped and Prisoners masterfully explores that devastation. While it is confronting and disturbing to watch in parts, it is also a rewarding cinematic experience. Prisoners is a complex story with layers of mystery and a thought-provoking message. Not only will you be drawn into the whodunit tale and feel for the characters who each uniquely deal with the drama, but you will also find yourself wondering how far you would go in a similar situation – and that is the most challenging part of the film. The film encourages you to think about where you would draw the line on your humanity. Prisoners is a tense psychological thriller that ultimately blurs the lines between good and evil, and examines what it takes for a good person to become bad.
It is thanksgiving when six-year-old girls Anna Dover (Erin Gerasimowich) and Joy Birch (Kyla Drew Simmons) go missing. Their parents, Keller (Hugh Jackman) and Grace Dover (Maria Bello), and Franklin (Terrence Howard) and Nancy Birch (Viola Davis), each react differently to the horror as the days drag on. While Grace turns to prescription pills, God-loving Keller takes the law into his own hands. He knows that if his daughter is not found within a week the chances of her ever being found alive drop dramatically. The only lead in the investigation is an RV that had earlier been parked on their street. Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) arrests the driver, Alex Jones (Paul Dano), but he is released due to a lack of evidence. The detective follows other leads but Keller is not satisfied. He is sure Alex is responsible and stops at nothing to find out the truth, and even drags a reluctant Franklin into his dark plans.
Aaron Guzikowski's plot takes several twists and turns along the way. It will keep you on the edge of your seat as you are presented with several creepy characters and potential suspects. Even though I had most of it figured out half-way through the film, it did not take away from my enjoyment. The film also raises some religious questions without being critical of faith or praising it to the point of alienating non-believers. It merely raises questions worth exploring in the film and in life. Director Denis Villeneuve, who made one of my favourite films – the horribly confronting and powerful Incendies – has again taken on a challenging subject but tells the story beautifully with his great use of cinematography and camera angles.
Jackman has been on quite a roll recently and his performance in Prisoners is almost flawless, as he presents a character that is somehow menacing and angry, but also caring and gentle. In fact, the entire cast is exceptional. Dano gives his strongest performance to date, Gyllenhaal presents an interesting unorthodox detective, Leo is almost unrecognisable and great in the role of Alex's aunty, Bello plays messy well, Howard portrays probably the most likeable character, and Davis has one particularly heartbreaking and desperate scene with Dano.
If I have to say one negative thing about the film, it is its two-and-a-half-hour length that may deter some people. But for me, the slow pace works to the film's advantage because audiences can feel the strain of time slipping away from the police and family.
I cannot say enough how much I love this film. I cannot wait to see it again.