On Thanksgiving Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) brings the Dover family over to friends of the family and neighbors The Birches (Terrance Howard & Viola Davis). While the grown ups talk, The families’ six year old daughters, Anna and Joy, go for a walk outside with their older siblings. On this walk, the girls try to play on a sketchy RV parked outside a house, but are forced to stay away. Upon their return Keller allows the girls to walk back to his house to go to Anna’s room. What Keller did not anticipate was that he would not see his daughter again.
This is where the film punches you in the gut. There is no trace of the girls, but the RV is gone from it’s location. Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) is soon assigned to the case and they locate the RV; After a failed escape by the RV; they uncover Alex Jones (Paul Dano). Unable to find any evidence that Alex took the children, his aunt (Melissa Leo) takes him out of custody. Loki informs Keller that there is no way possible that Alex couldn’t have committed such a brilliantly executed kidnapping due to his incredibly low IQ, but Keller believes no justice has been served, and takes matters into his own hands.
Although things don’t let up right there, as the story carries on through it’s cold atmosphere, bigger puzzles began to unravel. During Loki’s investigation, he discovers hidden secrets within the home of a Priest, Alex goes missing, and even some of the daughter’s clothing disappear. The film has such an intricate plot but manages to never feel too contrived, which is the reason why the film was being held up there with Fincher’s Zodiac and The Silence of The Lambs. Though with intricacy comes confusion, complaints such as “these things aren’t adding up” or “how could that be possible if this happened?” are what have been said about the film. However I wasn’t able to identify any massive plot holes that took away from the film’s story.
The biggest appeal of this film is the acting. Hugh Jackman gives an Oscar worthy performance here. He starts off as this loving religious father but when he daughter his taken, he descends down into rage and drinking to help overcome his inability to save his daughter. The delivery of his lines are brilliantly executed especially when he unleashes his anger towards anyone who stands in his way. Jake Gyllenhaal brings out a strong performance as well. Despite his characters distracting name Loki, Gyllenhaal easily gives off the persona that he doesn’t fail a case. Along with Jackman, they both descend into madness but Loki is able to maintain his cool. Frustration runs rampant being these two characters and when they are in the same presence of each other, the imagination that a bomb is ticking within them and that an altercation will surely happen. Maria Bello plays as Keller’s wife Grace Dover. Her situation is quite strange though, Bello is given a lot to do but at the same time hardly anything at all. For a majority of the film she plays the overly depressed mother and not much else. However she does this convincingly which helps balance the film in reality, because Keller’s emotions mostly result in exacting revenge which is true for real life situations but also sorrow needs to be there, and that’s what Bello brings to the film.
Terrance Howard is given a role where he should be able to excel to great heights, but he doesn’t have enough screen time to do so. Which is a good thing considering the films length but I’ll get that soon enough. Howard is required to be a sweet loving father but the polar opposite to Jackman’s character. The relationship between the two is interesting for that reason. Viola Davis is given even worse treatment than Howard and Bello, which is unfortunate. Most know that Davis is an incredible actress, but she’s given the least amount of screen time between the four. There are traits in her character that resemble her husbands, and the Dovers, but not enough of her own personality to make her standout. Paul Dano gives another outstanding performance to add to his filmography. Sure this role may be similar to his part There Will Be Blood and 12 Years A Slave which all require him to be loud and eccentric, but what I love most here is how subtle he must be at times. Dano is flat out creepy as Alex Jones, almost to the point where you don’t recognize it’s him acting. Melissa Leo plays Alex Jone’s aunt. She is also almost unidentifiable, with some great make up, and tone of speech which leads you to believe her character fully.
There are a few themes in this film, the best being Revenge. Sure it’s a theme in a load of other films but what makes it so effective here is that it allows the film to question it’s viewers morality. Which also ties into another prominent theme in the film the nature of good vs evil. As the audience watches how Keller handles this drastic situation, he pushes things towards its limitations and his revenge teeters on what is good and evil. Prompting questions within oneself, like “should I root for this man?” or “What would I do if I was in this situation?”. In that way the film becomes engaging and by investing so much into these characters, the film brings out such fulfilling emotions throughout it’s run time.
Now for the film’s biggest problem, the length of the film. Prisoners stands at 2 hours and 33 minutes, which really isn’t that too bad of a length for a film. However Prisoners feels like it’s 20 minutes to long, and perhaps if edited tighter it could have taken that extra step towards being what some have refereed to the film as being “a masterpiece”. The only problem is that it’s hard to even think about what parts of the film could have to extracted from the final cut or shortened down. Everything is timed exceptionally well, but time is of the essence here which is stressed by Keller in one of the more compelling scenes. The whereabouts of Anna is unknown and for all Keller knows; his daughter could be low on food and water, but what frightens him the most is that she’s wondering where he father is at, nobody else. That was a little of track but time is stressed a lot in the film and it would have been beneficial for Villeneuve and co to work a little harder on it’s running time.
The buildup of the story is high in suspense, intensity, but most shocking is how graphic the film can be. Jackman’s ferocity plays a major role in making these graphic moments sell. It’s uncomfortable to watch because you can’t imagine how much further things can go given it’s current state. Asides from those situations; in the film there a few sequences that are quite terrifying, but also further advance the plot to the opening and closing of certain leads. Another great aspect of the film is the Oscar nominated cinematography from Roger Deakins (No Country For Old Men, Skyfall). From beginning to end is eye pleasure on all fronts. The film already has the feeling of cold and eeriness from the snow but Deakins further enhances this atmosphere. The two most strikingly beautiful moments are easily the outside setting with all the candles and one of the most intense scenes i.e the car scene.
The last 20 minutes when everything unravels was handled quite well. It did begin to feel a little too Hollywood but for all intents and purposes it’s still a movie despite how real it felt for a majority of the film. A great accomplishment about the final 20 minutes is how it remains unpredictable throughout, all the way up until it’s closing minutes. Yes, looking back you can see exactly where you see where the film is heading in the last 2 minutes but to the film’s advantage. So many plot twist have happened previously, almost anything can happen. Thus leading to my thoughts on the ending; I loved it, sure I would have liked for it to maybe head into another direction but it puts a decent conclusion to the mystery, but still remains a mystery after the fact. It seems to be a trend in films to end a movie like this but it’s definitely one of the better attempts at this method.
Overall, Prisoners is an incredible thriller that demands repeated viewings for all sorts of reasons. For starters to better understand the case and to try and see the clues. The acting from this powerhouse cast is incredible just further showcasing how engaging films can be when done properly. The tale of morality is an interesting theme that allows conversations about the film to be held. If only the film could have been 10 to 20 minutes shorter, then I would fully agree with the claims of Prisoners beings regarded as a masterpiece.
My Rating: ★★★★½ / ★★★★★
Dir. Denis Villeneuve
IMDb 8.1/10 – Rotten Tomatoes 82%
Oscar Nomination – Best Cinematography
Saturn Award Nomination – Best Supp. Actress, Thriller, Make up
“Pray for the best, but prepare for the worst.”
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