October 2, 2013

Movie Review: Prisoners

With his first English language film, Oscar nominated director Denis Villeneuve (Best Foreign Language Film for Incendies) has delivered a finely crafted, intensely atmospheric, and frighteningly believable thriller. It is a movie that feels as if it were ripped right from the headlines, albeit with a dose of movie magic to amp things up to near the breaking point. This, to me, is rather impressive as the trailers, while intriguing, did not cry out as a must see. If you then factor in the two and half hour run time, I found myself questioning if it could possibly be worth it.

Prisoners is a movie that never overplays its hand, carefully doling out needed information just to keep it going. It is well paced, never boring, and does not feel overlong or bloated with too much filler. Everything means something. Still, while the plot is important and involving, this is very much a character driven piece, with captioning performances from Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal.

If you have seen the trailer, you have an idea of what is going on here. Two families on the same block are shocked by the disappearance of their youngest daughters on Thanksgiving. The only clue is the presence of an old RV seen by the older children. Detective Loki (a twitchy Gyllenhaal) takes the case and makes a quick arrest of the RV's driver. Unfortunately, the only suspect has the IQ of a ten year old and could not have possibly done this. He is released due to lack of evidence. Jackman's Keller is none to happy and takes matters into his own hands, kidnapping and torturing the one suspect there is (Paul Dano).

That is all given in the trailer and is pretty much a summary of the first half hour of the movie. With two hours more in the runtime, there is plants left to do and to learn. Yes, the movie does have a relatively straightforward track, it still manages to surprise and involve as different strands are threaded into the narrative weave.

There is a lot to like here. The look at vigilante justice, the gray area that surrounds it, and the idea that it may actually be necessary and work, not to mention the moral quandary that brings up. It is a fascinating thing to look at and Jackman infuses Keller with such emotional intensity that you want to cheer him on as the father who will stop at nothing, while at the same time being disused by the tactics he employs. Then you have Gyllenhaal's Loki, a tattooed detective with a constant eye twitch, his methods are unconventional, and something just seems off with him. He strikes me as a damned person, perhaps a victim of childhood abuse or something. We do not learn his background, but it is interesting to speculate.

Prisoners is endlessly fascinating, the more I think about it, the more there is to like. It may be marketed as a mass appeal film, but there is definitely much more to it than that. It is one that will leave you relieved, terrified, and not without a few questions. I is built on atmosphere, dread, creepiness, and is shot perfectly by Roger Deakins to capture the necessary atmospheric conditions.

I did not go in with the highest of open, but walked away surprised and satisfied. Even he smaller roles are interesting. Just look at the four parents, Jackman, Maria Bello, Terrence Howard and Viola Davis. Four people with four distinct and appropriate reactions to the situation watch as they struggle through the ordeal. Add the emotional investment to the intertwining pieces and you have a superb thriller.

Highly Recommended.

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