Directed by Denis Villeneuve
In his first English-speaking wide release studio film, French-Canadian director Denis Villeneuve (Incendies) has managed to surpass expectations with Prisoners, a harrowing and disturbingly atmospheric film that explores the forbidden taboo of how vigilante justice is sometimes the right decision in a gut-wrenching and effective way.
Those who have seen the trailer are most likely very familiar with the setup: Two neighboring couples experience every parent’s nightmare when their two youngest daughters go missing on Thanksgiving evening. When each couple’s eldest children recall an unfamiliar RV parked down the street, they call the police, hoping this lead will help them find their children.
Enter Detective Loki (Gyllenhaal), a tatted-up, hard-looking cop who also has never left a case unsolved; and with his unorthodox methods, he wastes no time in finding the lead suspect alone in the RV the very same night. The only problem is that lead suspect Alex (Dano) has the mental capacity of a 10-year-old child, and after much investigation the police are forced to release Alex from police custody, which angers one father (Jackman) in particular, and he decides to turn the tables by kidnapping Alex and torturing him until he cracks.
It should be noted that if you think you know everything there is to know regarding the plot of Prisoners based on the trailer, think again. The above synopsis is simply only a recap of the first thirty minutes in this controversial and taut marvel of a film and is something to be appreciated since there are far darker and more twisted surprises to be revealed, and it’s best to go in blind to experience them to the full effect.
There are many things to be in awe of when it comes to Prisoners from the grim cinematography from Oscar-nominated Roger Deakins to the controlled direction of Villeneuve, but more importantly the acting is the film’s strong point as this is very much a performance-driven thriller. Hugh Jackman in particular gives the strongest performance in his entire career playing the enraged and loose cannon father. Although his character first comes off as the most irrational in the film, the audience will root for him as many important details are only revealed to him, and because of that his brutal tactics are advocated and even justifiable given the circumstances.
Jake Gyllenhaal also gives an outstanding nuanced performance as Detective Loki, and from his tattooed knuckles and consistent eye twitch, viewers will find it hard to look away and question his character’s back story. Terrence Howard, Viola Davis, Maria Bello and Melissa Leo also provide exceptional acting, and despite the fact their minor roles are significantly smaller, they are just as important to the story.
Horror fans will also be delighted to know that Prisoners is no ordinary conventional thriller, and because of that, they shouldn’t let the mainstream appeal deter them from watching the film. There are scenes involving creepy home invasions and startling chase sequences, and if you thought the infamous “What’s In The Box?” scene in Seven was shocking; just wait until you see what Prisoners has in store for you.
Overall Prisoners delivers on all fronts despite its bloated runtime. It will definitely emotionally engage viewers and make them question if, put in the same situation, they would be able to do what it takes to save their child. It is definitely one of the most intelligent and tense thrillers that have come out in recent years, and if you don’t go out and watch it, you are definitely missing out.
4 1/2 out of 5