December 27, 2013


Denis Villeneuve, 2013
Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) and his wife Grace (Maria Bello) are spending some time with their neighbors Franklin (Terrance Howard) and Nancy Birch (Viola Davis). Their girls ask to go play at their house. They return home not long after only to find the two girls missing. With a suspicious RV in the neighborhood the police act quickly. Not feeling that the police investigated the initial suspect thoroughly, Keller loses faith in the police and decides to perform his own investigation for the girls independently, knowing that with each hour passing without their return the hope diminishes.

Prisoners is a tough film to get through. Not because its a poorly made film, it's quite the opposite. It's an exceptional film. It's just disturbing at the same time. A film that could have easily made this blog's Top 5 great films I don't want to see againIt's a difficult two hour ordeal involving child abduction, one of those horrific scenarios that everyone fears and doesn't want to think about. And it plays on that theme so well. At times it's likely to remind you of similarly themed kidnapping films Gone Baby Gone, Ransom, Taken or even Mystic River. But Prisoners stands out on it's own. Notes of desperation, suspicions of all of the shady characters embedded in the community (and there's no shortage of shady characters here), degradation of hope, loss of spirit. Even the small, rural town of Conyers Pennsylvania is bleak. It rains a lot, and when it's not raining or snowing the sun doesn't really resurface - it just sort of stays miserably overcast. This is no mistake by Villeneuve, who clearly wants the town of Conyers to have a more dreary air to it. The mechanics of such a film wouldn't work so well if the parents woke up to a sunny sky, almost hinting that things are going to get better. Instead, Keller and Grace don't really wake up because they hardly sleep. And when the daylight hits the windows, it's just another day that they spend every waking moment trying to find their daughter Anna. Next door there's no shortage of grief either as the well-off Birch family holds out. But the film has more of a focus on the Dover's. Their characters are more layered. Not financially stable. Their struggles feel identifiable, more realistic. Keller struggles to find carpentry work while also doomsday prepping in his well-organized basement. His son asks for some financial support in purchasing his first car and Keller almost immediately states that it's an impossibility. Clearly things can always get worse. And of course they do.

Jackman puts his Wolverine claws in the closet and delivers what's arguably the best performance of his character, full of nuance. A religious man, a recovering alcoholic who has already been to hell and back in the past. A man who likely at a certain limit only to have it pushed further. His morals become compromised, he makes drastic decisions, but you understand. He maintains conscience, at times even feeling desperate for a church confessional. Jake Gyllenhaal's performance as the twitchy Detective Loki is a bit restrained but his determined yet calculating demeanor is interesting. Keller unfortunately doesn't see how hard Loki is on himself. Character actor Paul Dano nails it as peculiar loner Alex Jones. Melissa Leo is the chameleon she always is. Maria Bello so perfectly demonstrates the complete collapse of one's character. The years that a trauma can put on someones mind and physical attributes, like that person you know in your town who lost a child years back that everyone feels so sorry for when they see her at the gas station while she hides her face. From beginning to end the cast performs like a gloomy symphony of melodrama. The final moments of the picture play on some of the notes of Silence of the Lambs, perhaps making more of an impact on you as you watch the the credits roll. Prisoners will without a doubt stick with you, for good or bad. 

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