“We do not give up on your sister!”
Common sense seems to lend itself to the idea that with every passing day that goes by in a child abduction, the fear of the worst increases exponentially. Every moment matters, and for Keller and Grace Dover (Hugh Jackman, Maria Bello), and friends/neighbors Franklin and Nancy Birch (Terrence Howard, Viola Davis), they become unfortunate Prisoners of time. On Thanksgiving afternoon, both of the family’s youngest daughters Anna, and Joy, have been taken away from them.
Only a mysterious RV parked on the street where the families reside is the only lead that Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal), a detective who has solved every case he has been assigned to, has. All evidence, in the eyes of Keller, points to the driver of the RV, mentally challenged Alex Jones (Paul Dano). With the police unable to do more than the law allows, Keller chooses to head his own investigation, to which there are no ceilings or depths he won’t break through–or sink to—in an effort to locate his daughter.
There is the horror that comes from the macabre, the supernatural, the slasher, etc. These types of horror can be scary and effective, but sometimes, they don’t stick with the viewer. There is something about using real-life scenarios that really gets under one’s being. In the case of the film Prisoners, it can’t be classified as a horror, but an argument can be made that it is more unsettling, and even, horrific than the common horror film.
Yours truly is not a parent, but the thought of having a son or daughter abducted with little to no trace of where they are has to be rank up as one of the more frightening things that could happen to one’s child, only under seeing them get killed right in front of you. Prisoners, directed by Denis Villeneuve, is permeated with a consistent feeling of dread throughout.
From the 10 minute mark on, the movie is unsettling, and a big part of that is a result of the miserable and depressing environment that Villeneuve and cinematographer Roger Deakins choose to exhibit, punctuated by the neverending overcast skies and the torrential downpour. Tone is set early and is never lost. But it isn’t just the usage of the environment to accentuate the story, sometimes it is the simple use of how a subject is focused on for seconds on end while another one is talking. It is a small touch, but a touch that made me feel like I wasn’t watching a movie here and there.
The screenplay is well-written, with possibly only a very, very, tiny bit of overwriting in the middle. Runtime could be a problem for some, but the story is enthralling and has more than enough from the 10-minute mark to the end. Thematically, and symbolically, it gets under the skin as well, and offers another layer of heavyness, unease, and contemplation (Check out this spoiler-filled but detailed article that you may or may not agree with at Vigilant Citizen). Any mystery has a massive challenge of being unpredictable, and though there will always be people can snap all of the pieces together before the end (70% of the time I’m incorrect on my educated guesses), the misdirects will likely prevent most from getting it right. As another credits to the writing, the pieces and misdirects never feel contrived.
A superstar cast does nothing less than stellar work. Perhaps the most scary thing about Prisoners is Hugh Jackman’s performance. Not scary as in he did a bad job, but scary because when watching, it is unnerving to think that maybe, just maybe, one would go about things exactly as he does if they found themselves in the exact same situation with all indications pointing to one person. Another interesting aspect of the character that makes how he goes about finding justice frightening is the fact that though he and his friend’s daughter are both missing together, he is only shown to care about his own daughter. To some this could be considered a writing oversight, but it feels intentional and implies that we (humans) can be rather myopic despite our efforts not to be. Don’t mistake his one-note character emotion of anger as evidence that he has no layers; the layers just dissipate in this situation. Keller is a representation of impulse, like most would be, here.
His polar opposite is represented in Jake Gyllenhaal’s Detective Loki. Where Keller is unhinged, Loki is methodical. He’s as mysterious and as layered as the case he is trying to solve, and yet, his character carries a level of trust that no one else possesses. Gyllenhaal loses himself yet again in a role that for most other actors, may have been overshadowed by Jackman’s intensity in his character. Paul Dano, Melissa Leo, Viola Davis, Maria Bello, Terrence Howard are all talented pros and bring what is expected to the table, and even smaller roles played by guys like David Dastmalchian and Len Cariou are noteworthy.
Years later, it still is baffling that Prisoners did not get the love at the 86th Academy Awards like it should have, in my humble opinion. Thrillers, and films as a whole, don’t get much better. Not an easy view, or one that can be viewed numerous times, but nonetheless a view that remains arresting each time out.
Photo credits go to IMDB.com, vigilantcitizen.com, movieloci.com, and thewrap.com.
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Good film, good review.
It is always hard to come up with a top 10 but I’m about 99% sure this would be in it.
I really enjoyed this movie also.. I’m a big Paul Dano fan so he was just spectacular to me..And Jackman in this type of role.. he really should do more of it. I remember I had friends who didn’t get it though..so I’m guessing that is where the ‘lack of love’ came in. too bad though as it was a damn good thriller for me. 🙂 BTW..this is how I like my thrillers..this one gave some good one-two surprise punches..something to maybe explain a little of what The Gift lacked for me..
Real interested to see what Villenueve does with Sicario. That is up there as one of the movies I most want to see in the rest of 2015. Gonna try to watch Enemy first though.
Sooooooo excited to see Sicario.. i’m going to bet we agree on it as per mostly usual.. hahahhahhah 😀 have a great weekend..at the movies..but of course..
Grrrrrreat work MMJ, this movie still remains vivid in my mind. I’d really like to watch it again, mostly for Jackman’s balls-out performance. Really good point about how Gyllenhaal holds his own and offers a good contrast to Jackman. That was really needed.
Really appreciate it Tom. I really believe this is one of my favorites of all time, but I’ve only watched once in theaters and most recently a few days ago.
I’ve had the Blu-Ray for a year and a half, but it is so damn heavy that you can’t watch numerous times (to me at least). Still sticks with you, though, and likely always will.
Yeah I think you may be right that it’s not one you can just sit down any old time and watch through. It’s def a heavy movie. Have you seen his ‘Enemy’ yet?
I haven’t! I know it has streamed on Netflix before so hopefully it is still there. If not, I might just buy it thought because I really do want to view before Sicario comes out.
It’s a strange one man, but you should see it. Gives a fuller idea of what Villeneuve is capable of. 🙂 And yeah Sicario looks great, can’t wait for that
The driving to the hospital scene is one of my favorite movie scenes in recent memory.
Really excited for Villeneuve’s new one, Sicario.
Yes! I should have mentioned this in my post, but I didn’t know how that was going to end. So tense and beautifully filmed.
Sept. 18th is going to be notable weekend for new films. Black Mass, Sicario, Everest, The Maze Runner: Scorch Trials, Captive, and Pawn Sacrifice (limited release I think for the last two). Definitely watching Sicario first, however.
Just letting you know, I believe Sicario is also a limited release that weekend, then wide the next week.
Just checked out Box Office Mojo and you’re right. Damn. Looks like I’ll either watch Black Mass or Everest first, and wait for Sept. 25th.
Great review. I really enjoyed Hugh Jackman’s performance in this.
He was so scary yet justified too in his actions, which is scary to think about but goes back to one of the questions the film asks? How would one react in this same scenario? I’d imagine a good deal would act in the same fashion as Jackman’s Keller.
Thanks for the comment!