It's Thanksgiving Day and neighbors like the Dover family and the Birch family come together to celebrate the holiday. The young girls of each family, Anna Dover (Erin Gerasimovich) and Joy Birch (Kyla Drew Simmons), run to the Dover residence in search of a red whistle that was lost by Anna's father Keller (Hugh Jackman) some time ago. Hours pass and the girls are nowhere to be found. A devoted cop by the name of Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) is put on the case and a simple minded driver of an RV named Alex Jones (Paul Dano) is the prime suspect. Since no physical evidence can be found, the two families begin to lose hope but Keller Dover soon takes matters into his own hands. Protecting your family is taken to the absolute limit in "Prisoners."
The cast for "Prisoners" may be the most impressive ensemble of any film released in 2013. Hugh Jackman plays a father who is so committed to finding his daughter that he pushes himself beyond any sort of physical or mental limits any ordinary person may have had in the same situation. Jackman's performance is passionate, unstable, and driven. In fact, Jackman has never been better. Jake Gyllenhaal delivers a remarkable performance, as well. Detective Loki will stop at nothing to solve whatever case he's put on and he completely submerges himself in the investigation. The one thing that may stick out from Gyllenhaal's performance is the extreme way he blinks in certain situations. It may be an attribute of his character not getting enough sleep (his eyes appear really bloodshot at times, as well), but it's more than a little noticeable nevertheless.
The rest of the cast seems to pick and choose their moments. Paul Dano's part is rather small, but the sleaziness Dano has become notorious for comes right along with him. Viola Davis portrays a mother at her wit's end perfectly. She has a fantastically emotional scene with Paul Dano that is superb. However, Maria Bello and Terrence Howard are a little disappointing. Bello mostly just whines and stays drugged up the entire film while Howard seems to repeat the same three lines of dialogue every time he opens his mouth. Howard has chosen some less than stellar projects to be a part of the past two years. It feels like he's still shaking off the absurd behavior and overall terribleness he was a part of in films like "Red Tails" and "Dead Man Down."
Denis Velleneuve's crime thriller may seem exhausting looking at its 153-minute duration and it is in actuality a little long, but its pace is also very controlled. Think David Fincher's "Zodiac." It may be lengthy, but the performances are outstanding and the journey is never not intriguing. It's as if the viewers are attempting to piece together the clues that Detective Loki uncovers right as he discovers them and you're kept guessing until the very end.
Other than the film's emphasis on mazes, religion is also an important factor of "Prisoners." Keller mutters The Lord's Prayer as his son Ralph (Dylan Minnette) shoots his first deer in the opening moments of the film and you also learn that Holly Jones (Melissa Leo), the aunt and current guardian of Alex Jones, used to be a devout Christian. "Waging a war on God," is something you find yourself pondering long after the film is over. After discussing the film with others, some may think the film focuses on torture a little too much. Truth be told, "Prisoners" would be completely different without the torture element. Alex Jones is the only lead anyone has for nearly the entire film, so naturally doing whatever it takes to make him talk seems reasonable. That doesn't mean it's not taken too far, but the reasoning is sound.
"Prisoners" is one of the most contemplative and fulfilling films of the year. While the film does leave you with a handful of questions, you'll find yourself thinking about the film days after you see it. Unpredictable and extraordinary, "Prisoners" throws you right into an unsolvable investigation that takes several unexpected turns.
"Prisoners" was released in theaters across the country today, September 20.