Prisoners is as much morality play as it is revenge tale courtesy of a jaw-dropping ending.
With powerhouse performances from Hugh Jackman and a supporting cast that includes Viola Davis, Cleveland native Terrence Howard, Maria Bello, Paul Dano and Jake Gyllenhaal, this one, which opens on screens today (Sept. 20) could be an early entrant into the Oscar derby. It certainly has that type of pedigree because the dark thriller mines a variety of situations and puts its players in situations where they have to question their belief systems, morality and humanity.
Aaron Guzikowski’s script tense, smart gripping story is given the emotional lift that only a talented cast of actors can give it along with a director with a very sure hand. Denis Villeneuve, a director known primarily for his short film, shows the ability to guide the cast through the moral maelstrom to get the audience to a place where they are forced to confront the very same questions that the characters must endure. In that regard, he helps us to get inside each characters head – all of them.
And there’s plenty of spooky stuff there caused by the abduction of the Dovers and Birches’ daughters Anna and Joy.
The friends are celebrating Thanksgiving together at the Birches when the two youngsters tell their parents are going to the Dovers home to look for something.
A few hours later, they come up missing. Keller Dover (Jackman) and Franklin Birch (Howard) go through the usual process and follow the only lead they have – Keller’s son reported seeing a strange RV in the area and it along with the girls are gone.
Alex Jones (Dano), the driver of that vehicle is arrested by Det. Loki (Gyllenhaal) and appears to be the only viable suspect. The problem: there’s no evidence linking him to the crime in any form or fashion. When upon his release he mutters some almost inaudible words to Keller during a confrontation, it sends the frustrated father over the edge and he brings his friends with him.
Feeling powerless, he takes the situation into his own hands kidnapping Jones and begins the process of torturing him for information . Make no mistake about it, it is torture and at times it’s brutal to watch him wail on Jones, who allegedly has the development of a 10-year-old.
He drags Franklin, who reluctantly buys into the methods, into the situations. In the meantime his family life is going to hell as his wife descends (Bello) into a routine of sedation.
And the Birches? After Nancy Birch (Davis) discovers what’s happening, their situation will never be the same.
Det. Loki isn’t immune to all of the insanity associated with the abductions and Gyllenhaal masterfully brings that to the forefront.
Villeneuve could have easily made a conventional revenge film, but Prisoners strives to be something so very much more than that elevating the film into a morality play with emotional heft.
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Viola Davis, Terrence Howard, Maria Bello, Paul Dano and Jake Gyllenhaal
Studio: Warner Bros.
Rated: R for disturbing violent content including torture, and language throughout.
Running time: 153 minutes
George’s rating: 4-of-5 stars
Check for theaters and showtimes at Atlas Cinemas, Cleveland Cinemas, Fandango.com and MovieTickets.com