It reminded me of Peter Jackson’s The Lovely Bones, and that monstrous feeling of helplessness in the face of a demon. It reminded me of Ben Affleck’s Gone Baby Gone and how solving a crime, sometimes, doesn’t always seems like the right thing. Prisoners takes the Kidnap sub-genre and wants to highlight the fact that in an event like this, all the people involved (victims and victimizers) are trapped in a prison of horror and despair. I believe the idea is interesting and it’s worth being explored.
The film is directed by Denis Villeneuve, whose 2010 film Incendies got some recognition as an Oscar Nominated Foreign Language Film, and the idea written by Aaron Guzikowski was so alluring that it attracted A-list actors: Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis, Maria Bello, Terrence Howard, Melissa Leo and Paul Dano…which means this is a pedigreed film.
The story wants to turn the tables on vigilantism, profiling suspects, torture and what lurks inside the sub-urban landscape, which seems to be on the headlines very often nowadays with every new act of violence in our streets. To tell you the truth, all the good intentions fell through somewhere in the process and the film tastes to me a little bit like a copy-paste effort enhanced by throwing in some good actors who are, clearly not needed. In short, the film loses its authenticity and staying power.
The story deals with the kidnapping of two little girls (Anna Dover and Joy Birch) from two couples (Keller & Grace Dover and Franklin & Nancy Birch) who are spending some quality time together. Alex Jones, the owner of an old and dirty RV is the suspect, but his psychological disability gives him a ticket to freedom (specially when there are not traces of the girls anywhere near him). It takes a single silent scene (pretty disturbing) to make Keller believe in his heart that Detective Loki was wrong, and so he takes justice in his hand by torturing Alex with very extreme techniques.
The moral dilemma is that we are not sure the very submissive Alex is guilty, so Keller could be signing himself some jail time for his own despicable actions based on a good reason. All those real-life events like the Treyvon-Zimmerman trial come to mind when it comes to deal with vigilantism and the dangers of being absolutely sure about something that can't be proved. And the torture procedures of American forces depicted in Kathryn Bigelow's Zero Dark Thirty are brought back to our soil, to our own little towns, our own basements and abandoned apartment complexes. The film even drags the Birchs into the torture scenes to underline the powerlessness of victims and their need to find the responsible as a form of closure.
Interesting description, isn’t it? I believe so, but the development & direction seems so “by-the-numbers”, some plot turns are impossible to sustain and most of the wonderful actors are so under used that they end up being a distraction more than an asset. Of the bunch, only Jackman and Dano have some staying power, but at this point, the film has covered so many cliché scenes and become so uninteresting that, frankly, I didn’t even care much for their fate once the story got resolved.
Yes, they are all prisoners, but it all blended into a drama-of-the-week picture with little resonance for a storyline this strong. Let's just call it, a missed opportunity.