Released: September 20, 2013. Directed by: Denis Villeneuve. Starring: Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Terrence Howard. Runtime: 153 min.
Thought-provoking and engaging, “Prisoners” represents a type of film that I I love. It asks the question: What would you do if your child was kidnapped? What lengths would you go to get them back?
Thanksgiving for the Dover and Birch families start out like any other, but takes a horrifying turn after dinner. When a young daughter is taken from each family (Anna from the Dover clan, Eliza from the Birches), it is hell on earth. They call the police and, later, the RV their children were playing by is found. After a suspect, Alex Jones (Paul Dano), is released by police because he has the IQ of a ten year-old, Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) must take matters into his own hands. He is convinced this man has kidnapped his daughter and her friend.
Meanwhile, the lead detective, Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) is following leads and attempting to find the girls before time runs out. Dover is doing the same, but with a different form of vigilante justice.
As an ethical exploration, “Prisoners” is fascinating. As a kidnapper-revenge crime story, it’s dark and complex; if predictable at times. There are plot twists upon plot twists, but many are “Ooooh, I shoulda known.” It is an enthralling ride, either way.
The ethical questions raised throughout are how far would you go to get your kids back? It’s a story about parental instincts, but the mothers take backseat roles in the film. Viola Davis portays Nancy Birch, who learns of the drastic plan Keller has hatched later on. Maria Bello, who plays Grace Dover, has the smallest amount of screen time out of the primary cast, as she is popping insomnia pills like they are M&M’s throughout the movie.
So, to many, it might seem as if the film is predominantly about fatherly instincts. Hugh Jackman’s character (Keller Dover) represents the desperation of fathers who will be the backbone behind a drastic plan, and wish to see it through to the end as to see his baby girl again. Terrence Howard (Franklin Birch) is the father who is a bit more reluctant to going to these illegal heights at seeing his child again. Most fathers will go through this plan, but he just represents the fathers who will be a bit more heartbroken about it… But won’t stop it. Personally, my fatherly instincts might be a bit more akin towards Howard’s.
Jake Gyllenhaal’s Loki is the only main male character who doesn’t have a child. He represents the rational law-man, who’s fighting for what’s right. His heart goes into this case, as well. This situation is intense for him, but it’d be much scarier if he had children. His contribution to the story is leading the case; but Keller thinks he could be doing his job a helluva lot better.
Those of us in the audience without children, can understand the lengths Keller and Franklin would go through to get their children back. It’s unsettling and heartbreakingly shocking. What is a heartbreaking aspect to it is that, even though we might not be the one doing the beating, all humans with a heart will go to these lengths to see their child again. This is what makes these characters so real. The only unrealistic part of the film is the recurring cop cliché of who the hell needs back-up or partners?
The Controversial Oscar Nominee Squad Beating On A Villain (that’s what I like to call them) aspect of the film makes us sympathize with a potential villain. Paul Dano plays the softly-spoken Alex Jones, a suspect in the case – and a character who will keep you guessing on how much he knows about the girls’ disappearance. Another memorable performance is from Alex Jones’ aunt, Holly Jones, portrayed by Melissa Leo in a nearly unrecognisable role.
Writer Aaron Guzikowski knows what solid storytelling is all about, and director Denis Villeneuve knows how to create a intricate and dark atmosphere, coupled with great imagery. It seems as if he’s been taking a tip or two from David Fincher; as this feels as intense as “Zodiac” in more than a few scenes; making me think of this as one of the more suspenseful films of recent memory. Villeneuve also knows how to get incredible performances out of his talented cast.
No matter how small the performances of those involved, they are emotionally involving and, most importantly, believable. Gyllenhaal is great as Detective Loki, relentless and powerful in his pursuit of the girls. He continues to play a believable detective. Jackman’s emotions are believable because many fathers will react the way he does. His mind is focused on seeing his daughter again, and the way he remains strong under this extraordinary pressure, and how he breaks down under his desperation is heartbreaking. He is one of the only people staying strong when others are crumbling. Jackman is phenomenal because he pours his heart and soul into this film. There might just be another Oscar nomination for Jackman on the way.
What is impressive about the movie is its truly emotional impactful story. It’s engaging in so many ways. There’s a lot of power when a movie can be simultaneously terrifying and heartbreaking. It’s phenomenal at 153 minutes, but I wonder how much better it would be if it were about ten minutes shorter. It’s a really fascinating puzzle to piece together, that’s certain. Unforgettable and hard to watch; the ethical debates people will have about this film is what cinema is all about.