If you’re a person who goes to the movies to be swept away and relieved of your everyday worries, you may not want to make “Prisoners” your first choice. But, if you are someone who appreciates brilliant directing, intense performances, and can take a story that will weigh on you long after you leave the theater but that keeps you on the edge of your seat, then look no further.
Canadian director Denis Villeneuve makes his English language debut with this spellbinding thriller that focuses on the kidnapping of two young girls and how far one father goes to save them. Villeneuve creates a pitch-perfect feel from a script that brilliantly weaves the audience through an elaborate maze. With a career best performance from Hugh Jackman and strong turns from the supporting cast, the only thing that holds this film up is its length – however it’s a small complaint.
Villeneuve, an Oscar-winning director, couldn’t have asked for a better debut to mainstream audiences. His incredible handle of a complicated, weight subject and a large cast of well-established actors is something not everyone can pull off. He does so with near flawlessness. He creates a world that draws similarities with David Fincher’s “Zodiac,” but which exceeds in focusing the story and making it easy to follow and get caught up in all that is going on.
None of that would likely be possible without a carefully planned and well-crafted screenplay by Aaron Guzikowski. Every possible nook and cranny of the mystery is carefully thought out and comes together to a logical, but still surprising conclusion. All of the performances and directing might have amounted to nothing if the screenplay was not able to handle the own weight of the mystery it created.
Speaking of the performances, every actor is on top of their game. Paul Dano is practically mute, but exceptionally creepy. Maria Bello, Viola Davis, and Terrence Howard are heartbreaking as the parents of the kidnapped girls. Melissa Leo’s role is brief, but completely in control. But it’s Jake Gyllenhaal and Hugh Jackman that shine brightest.
Gyllenhaal’s Detective Loki is smart and tough, but is clearly struggling and effected by everything going on in the case. He, like Jackman, is obsessed, perhaps haunted, by this case. Jackman’s character, however, is not able to handle it. His obsession to find his daughter takes him down a path Jackman portrays with an intense fury that is captivating. This is without a doubt his best performance.
Like a car crash, “Prisoners” is something you just can’t take your eyes off of. But it is a long and drawn out car crash. The run time is around two and a half hours, and that has to be its biggest issue. Everything takes its time, and it is better than being rushed, but there are more than a couple of scenes that wouldn’t lose their impact from having been trimmed a little more.
This is a film that will stay with you, not in a nice way though. Its look into how the darker side of a person can be brought out in extreme circumstances is effecting, but doesn’t leave you with any warm feelings at the end. The film’s ambiguous ending is no help either. “Prisoners” is one of the better films of the year; it likely won’t be any ones favorite, but if you can handle everything it throws at you you’ll be glad you saw it.