Movie Review: PRISONERS

Movie Review: PRISONERS

Director: Denis Villeneuve
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Hugh Jackman, Terrence Howard, Viola Davis, Maria Bello, Paul Dano, Melissa Leo

This twisty ethical child abduction mystery thriller will have people pretty divided. I can tell you that I was engrossed from the very first frame and did not check the watch in the entire two and a half hour run-time. No, this is not even my Jake Gyllenhaal bias showing through. Thanksgiving should be this joyful day spent with family and friends stuffing your face and having a peaceful time. For the Dover and Birch families, it will go down as the Thanksgiving they will never forget.

After their joint celebration Keller and Grace Dover (Jackman and Bello) and Nancy and Franklin Birch (Davis and Howard) settle down for a little wine and music only to realize their daughters are missing. The girls’ older teenage siblings have not seen them since dinner when they went to play outside. Earlier in the day, the girls came across a mysterious van parked on the street that they wanted to play on. Keller’s son informs them about the van and the search begins for the owner and the girls. Detective Loki (Gyllenhaal) quickly discovers the van outside a gas station and arrests the disturbed driver, Alex Jones (Dano). Alex is a quiet, almost mute, man who seems to have severe mental issues. Detective Loki rules him out as a suspect after discovering he has the IQ of a ten year old and his van is completely clear of prints, blood, and other evidence. 

Loki continues on with the case by following various leads and theories. He is not about to let this go away as the girls’ parents grow more and more concerned. Keller is adamant that Alex is guilty and that the police have let the wrong guy go free. He decides to take matters into his own hands. His drastic measures could have severe consequences for his family and for the Birchs. If you have seen the trailers or think I may be giving away too much, just you wait! This all happens within the first thirty minutes or so and the mystery twists and turns as the days pass by and the girls remain missing.

I knew by the opening shots and the distinct care put into capturing the weather, nature, and atmosphere that a master cinematographer was behind the camera. Ten time Oscar nominee Roger Deakins (Skyfall, Fargo, The Shawshank Redemption) works his magic by framing so many of the shots into stunning visuals that tell their own stories as well as shape the story we are watching before us. Can we get this genius an Oscar already? What does it take? It is a shame that these artists are typically left unnoticed and very under appreciated. 

The film centers around mazes which play a big part into the investigation and the journey Loki takes to solving the crime and the one Keller takes in dealing with the disappearance of his little girl. When you start adding in twists and turns into any mystery, you will inevitably leave the audience divided. I know some people are giving the film flack for having said twists and debate the logistics and reality of them, but I think they work. They are the roadblocks and walls in this maze Loki and Keller are dealing with throughout the story. The Detective Loki character remains a bit of a mystery as well. He is seen with a fully buttoned shirt, slicked back hair, neck and knuckle tattoos, and remains fairly stoic throughout. He never shows a deep empathy or emotion toward the parents, but you know he is determined to find the girls. Much of his inner thoughts and discoveries are kept bottled up inside. Gyllenhaal excels at keeping much of this character unknown. 

Gyllenhaal is just one part of the strong ensemble that make the core of the film work so well. Viola Davis is always touching and strong. I’ll watch her cry her eyes out any day of the week. Maria Bello redeems herself from the lackluster “Prime Suspect” remake that aired two seasons ago. Howard and Jackman are very hit or miss for me. Often times, they are a bit over-the-top and showy, but here they show such restraint and control knowing when to unleash their inner anger. I seem to be in a minority with Jackman in Les Miserables. I thought he just screamed and shouted far too much for the character of Jean Valjean. He does quite a bit of that here, but it is far more appropriate and comes when needed for the character. This is by far the best performance of his career. Then we have Paul Dano. We have seen him in numerous indie hits, but he is absolutely stunning here. His physicality speaks volumes and adds so many complex layers to this mysterious character. He does this all with the very minor dialogue he is given. I would LOVE to see him acknowledged by the Academy or other critics, but will most likely go unnoticed with Jackman and Gyllenhaal doing captivating work in the starring roles.

This is a heavy hitter that will not sit well with many moviegoers. It asks those ethical and moral questions of what you would do if you were in the same situation. Would you stop at nothing like Jackman’s character when it comes to the safety of your child? The twists and turns will divide the audience and so will the ending. I am obviously not going to spoil that here, but I do not see what the fuss is all about. I think it fits in perfectly with the style and tone of the rest of the film. Director Denis Villeneuve and screenwriter Aaron Guzikowski try to cover quite a bit ground by taking the story on numerous routes much like an investigator would. I was left with some minor questions afterwards, but none that outweighed the emotional punch I was given throughout by this strong ensemble of actors many of which give some of their best performances.

RATING: **** 1/2 (4.5 out of 5 stars)

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