Prisoners is a slow burning thriller that will leave you questioning your morals at the end of the film. One might even feel justified given the ending, hemorrhoids but does the actions of one make it right to go to extremes? These are the questions that Prisoners wants to leave you with and does so extremely well.
We’re first introduced to the loving and seemingly happy family of the Dover family, migraine with Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) a father who has survivalist ideals who keep his wife Grace (Maria Bello), find daughter Anna and son Ralph (Ralph Dover) feeling protected and safe. They are visiting their neighbours the Birchs (Franklin, played by Terrence Howard and Nancy played by Viola Davis) for Thanksgiving Dinner. AFter dinner, as the Dovers and Birches spend some time together, Anna and Joy Birch (Kyla Drew Simmons) decide they want to look for the red whistle that Keller gave Anna which she lost back at the Dover’s home. Earlier, Joy’s sister Eliza and Ralph took them out for a walk when Anna and Joy start playing on this old beat up RV parked outside the home, when they discover someone is inside. Frightened, they leave immediately and return home. It is then that they have gone missing.
Prisoners weaves an excellent mystery along with a story of a father willing to go to great lengths to do what he feels right in trying to find his daughter, even if that means doing something wrong, and the detective (Jake Gyllenhaal, who was terrific in his role as Detective Loki). It asks the viewers repeatedly “is this something you would do?”, “what would you do in the same situation?” At the same time, the mystery keeps you on your toes, revealing clues little by little from the very beginning.
Paul Dano who plays the suspect Alex Jones, was excellent here, in which his body language, his shifty eyes and mumbly sounds made one constantly question whether or not he really was the culprit. Were you to feel sorry for him? I think the answer ultimately is a very personal one. It is arguable whether or not the actions of Keller Dover were of any use to the search of his daughter. Interestingly enough, Loki was in the side of wrong many times, as we as citizens of the world often believe policemen would act. It also begs to question whether or not his actions were right. Is it okay to just break in without a search warrant? Loki does this multiple times. For the sake of the film, it is possible they need Loki to not follow protocol (that otherwise would result in evidence being thrown out and him getting in trouble.) But here they are, on a ticking time bomb, looking for the daughters of the Birch and Dover family, so protocol it seems, is flown out the door.
The cinematography by veteran Roger Deakins elevates the entire look and feel of the film, framing the clues carefully while basking the scenes in drearyness that feels eerily beautiful yet empty.
The acting all around is pitch perfect, from Gyllenhaal’s determination in solving the case, Jackman’s ruthless desparation of finding his daughter, Dano’s strange but eerie movements, to the breakdown of Bello as a mother who has lost all feeling or emotion, stationary in her own bed – all perfect. Prisoners also show the different ways of dealing with something as catastrophic as losing your child. Davis and Howard are just as good, though they are not given as much screen time. It is a stellar cast with a great mystery. When Leo appeared on screen (who plays the aunt of Alex Jones), her manner of carrying herself and walking really impressed me. It made me question whether or not her presence was to purposely seem a bit creepy or not, because the immediate dislike towards her was strong.
The vibe of Prisoners feels sometimes, foreign. Its dark, unrelentingly gloomy with the constant drops of rain, and it is Villeneuve’s background coming from a different perspective than the usual glossy Hollywood mark that Prisoners feels like a weighty movie. This is Villeneuve’s first feature film in English, and he knocks it out of the park. Best known for his work on the Canadian film Incendies, here he is a master of direction, as every scene has been thought out carefully. All the scenes feel crucial to the story and understanding the end. The pacing is slow enough where the audience will invest in these and truly care about their goal to find their daughters, but fast enough that they’ll never get bored.
I think Villeneuve hits it out of the park for this one. Not a film for those who have a faint of a heart. If you have a love for the genre of suspenseful thrillers (which I do), head straight for “Prisoners”. If you’re expecting something shiny and sparkly here with a ton of action, constant clues being thrown at you with a pace of lightning, you’ll be sorely disappointed. Prisoners is a drama.
Watching Prisoners gave me the same satisfied feeling that I have after reading a really good mystery, which is not something I would usually describe a film. In fact, I continue to think about the clues and about the film. For that feeling alone, I give Prisoners 5 red whistles / 5 red whistles.
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Screenplay: Aaron Guzikowski
Release Date: September 20, 2013
Actors: Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Melissa Leo, Paul Dano, Maria Bello, Viola Davis, Terrance Howard, Dylan Minnette
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