Even with a slow start and a somewhat predictable storyline (early on anyway), Prisoners does manage to lift itself and deliver some surprises and twists for a satisfying thriller. Despite not being a fan of a few of the actors involved, the casting ultimately proved to benefit the film, resulting in it being greater than the sum of the parts.
Two families in a remote American town are thrown into turmoil once their two youngest daughters go missing. A suspect is apprehended but the girls are still nowhere to be found, and when Chief investigator Det. Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) announces that they intend to release their suspect due to lack of evidence, one of the father’s (Hugh Jackman) takes matters into his own hands. For a while he seems justified – even if the suspected murderer (the always unhinged Paul Dano) is a seemingly brain damaged young man – but events begin spiraling as they get closer to the missing puzzle piece.
Anyone looking for a dark, intriguing and absorbing thriller should give this a watch. You may have to be in the mood to appreciate it and take in the gritty and eerie tones, and though it may be well over two hours long with its own methodical pacing, it will hit the right chords and keep you on the edge.
Initially predictability was an issue, especially in the first 30 minutes, but that aspect almost plays into its favour as you’re kind of waiting to see where it all leads – and it doesn’t disappoint.
I may be indifferent to several of the actors, most notably Hugh Jackman, but all of those notions play well against his character as the ordinary man (mostly good) willing to do anything to protect his daughter. His character Keller Dover soon recruits his friend, and father to the other missing girl, Franklin (Terrence Howard) to aid in his demented quest to uncover the truth. It tackles that age old question of “to what depths would good men go, in the search for justice, when their loved ones are in danger” – or the dynamic of “there is no evil like that which is born from good” or something to that effect. [I was reminded of a short story we studied in high school called “The suit” about a good man who torments his unfaithful wife with her lover’s suit.]
What carries the film though, through all the tension and twists, is the strong cast (notably those in supporting roles) which include the likes of Maria Bello and Viola Davis (as the grieving mothers), Wayne Duvall and the always stellar Melissa Leo.
However, above and beyond all that, I was most impressed with (and this was a surprise for me) Jake Gyllenhaal. I’ve never been a fan of his – he’s never really convinced as a leading man, even after several big bites at the cherry (kind of in the same league as Colin Farrell and Sam Worthington), but in Prisoners, his is the most intriguing character. I would recommend seeing this just for Detective Loki. It is perhaps what separates this film from others in the genre in recent years, and though I could think of several actors to play the same role, what works wonders is that Prisoners allows the audience to choose sides (perhaps based on prior knowledge and fan prejudice), and slowly morphs the picture to manipulate your opinion.
What was most pleasing to watch about Gyllenhaal’s performance was that only in the early goings did you see him, soon though Loki takes centre stage, subtly telling you that he’s not completely at home in his job, but that he seems increasingly familiar with the dark world into which he often has to venture… his mind constantly working in a world all his own, only partaking and contributing to the lives of others out of mere duty. This is easily his best performance in my books, and perhaps even my favourite single performance of 2013 (I’ll have to see it again to make sure). He’s got my nod if he continues in this vein.
- An all-round solid ensemble, making for a disturbing, absorbing and memorable night out.