<Review by: Sailesh Ghelani>
Directed by Denis Villeneuve. Starring Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Terrence Howard, Viola Davis, Paul Dano, Melissa Leo
A chilling story so beautifully made and ominously shot with some tremendous performances, Prisoners is a true thrill.
From the title you can’t really tell what this film is about. And that’s just the start of so many intriguing things that crop up during the course of this two and a half hour film that’s a rollercoaster of suspense and drama.
Primal. That’s a word you can use to describe this film as well as Hugh Jackman’s character Keller Dover who from the first scene is showing his son how to hunt and teaching him to always be prepared. But all his preparations, including a fully stocked bunker in the basement can’t prepare him for what is about to transpire as his family share Thanksgiving with their neighbours in a small town in Pennsylvania.
Keller (Jackman) and his wife Gracie (Maria Bello) and their son and daughter visit their neighbour’s Franklin and Nancy Birch (Terrence Howard and Viola Davis) for Thanksgiving. Their daughter wants to go play with the Birch’s daughter back at her house so the parents let them. And then the kids disappear. Concern leads to panic and panic to utter anguish. A suspect, Alex Jones (Paul Dano) who drives a beat up old mobile home but has the IQ of a 10-year-old is all the police have to go on. And icy Detective Loki (not the one from the Avengers!) played by Jake Gyllenhall isn’t sure where this trail leads.
But Jackman’s Keller isn’t going to let the bumbling, slow-witted police lose precious time, especially since he still suspects Alex Jones who lives alone with his aunt Holly (Melissa Leo) and says very little but creeps you out with each word he utters.
Other reviews go further to tell you how Keller decides to go to any length to find his daughter but I just can’t do it. While not in itself very surprising, the way in which first-time (in Hollywood) Canadian director – his 2010 film Incendies was nominated for a Best Foreign Language Film award at the 2011 Oscars – Denis Veillenuve has showcased this method from madness is bone chilling. Jackman as Wolverine is a pussycat. If you want to hear him roar and really claw the flesh from a man’s bones then watch Prisoners.
Jake Gyllenhaal at first seems like he’ll be the quiet, subtle balance. He may be quiet but he’s far from subtle. His small inflections and blinking twitch coupled with the tough as nails cop attitude who goes about his job sometimes in auto-pilot but always in complete control is a brilliant counterpoint to Jackman’s raw, driven and unpredictable menace. He has a past but even without delving into it, Gyllenhall and Veillenuve make you believe this is a man with skeletons in his closet. But right now, he’s going to find the snakes in a maze (watch and you’ll find out).
Academy Award winner Melissa Leo in her small but effective performance and Viola Davis as the mother who deals with the tragedy in a more proactive way also stand out.
The bleak wintery, rainy, icy cold of the surroundings add a further chill to the proceedings. Cinematography by Roger Deakins is perfect in cohesion with the eerie music. At times Prisoners reminded me of the recent The Frozen Ground, which was also about abduction and the search for a psychopath. Both are excellent films but Prisoners is just slightly more engaging.
What would you do if your child were kidnapped? Would you kill to save her? Would you torture? Would you sacrifice your life? Prisoners is also a comment on the jaded police system in America that has reached a point where missing children are just statistics. It’s like they just disappeared and that’s that as one of the characters in the film mentions about her son’s abduction 26 years ago (a particularly relevant scene).
It’s a heavy film, a long one too but you will be gripped for the most part as you question your own morals and ask yourself what you would do to protect your family and sometimes to protect your soul.