Prisoners is a crime thriller starring Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Terrance Howard and Melissa Leo and directed by Denis Villeneuve. Jackman and Howard are fathers whose daughters disappear one Thanksgiving afternoon. The police, led by Jake Gyllenhaal, arrest a creepy suspect (Paul Dano) but without any physical evidence or confession tying him to the abduction, they have to let him go. Believing that Dano knows where the girls are, Jackman takes matters into his own hands.
The first half is an effective nightmare.
Gyllenhaal's performance as a detective committed to solving the case is brilliantly understated.
Jackman's desperation and descent into violent madness is emotional and compelling.
The tone is bleak and oppressive throughout, created by deft cinematography and art direction in the muted, late-November cold.
Prisoners shifts from being an exploration of the depths men will go to in pursuit of justice to a standard child-abduction thriller replete with many of the cliche's you would expect to find.
A poorly - and unclearly - motivated villain.
The audience can put the pieces together well in advance of the detectives.
A few plot holes.
You'll like this movie if you:
*Enjoy being put through an emotional wringer, especially with regard to abducted children.
*Love dark, atmospheric crime thrillers, even if they're flawed.
*Can enjoy a movie simply on the strength of the performances.
You'll hate this movie if you:
*Have strong negative feelings about exploiting people's fears for commercial gain.
*Hate mysteries that you solve half an hour before the detective does.
*Are married with young kids and go see this movie on date night.
The Bottom Line:
Prisoners is a conflicting film. On the one hand, it has some masterful performances and begins with an interesting exploration of the depths desperate men will go to protect their loved ones. On the other hand, those compelling elements are undermined by a third act that dives deeply into crime thriller cliches.
As a crime thriller then, it is largely successful, although fairly predictable after the midpoint of the film (we have to wait 20 minutes for Gyllenhaal to discover something that we knew instantly). As psychological exploration or social commentary, however, it functions well only for the first half before later events strip away some of the poignancy of those earlier moments, making them feel more manipulative than harrowing or thought-provoking.
Prisoners is rated R for disturbing violent content, including torture, and language throughout.