Aaron Guzikowski wrote the script for “Prisoners” and also took a moment to draft a letter, which was read prior to the screening, to the audience saying how appreciative he was that we were there to watch his film. Showing gratitude for being able to present writing he can proud of is admirable. When you click on his IMDb profile, it is barely complete, yet that extra personal touch made his name more memorable.
“Prisoners” is a dark, multi-layered film that focuses on several heavy topics at once: abduction, desperation, violence, and oddly enough, religion. The movie is set on the East Coast in winter, Thanksgiving to be exact, so already there is a literal chill to the sometimes gruesome scenes As the movie opens. Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) and his wife Grace (Maria Bello) walk to their neighbors’, Franklin and Eliza Birch (played by a boring Terrence Howard and Viola Davis), house with their two children for Thanksgiving dinner. After dinner, Keller’s young daughter Anna wants to walk back to their own home with the Birch’s daughter Joy to look for a lost whistle. Several hours pass and the families realize the girls are missing.
Their only lead is the person inside of a RV who may have been watching the girls when they were out walking with their siblings. This is the only initial lead that the police have and they along with Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) jump on it. They find the driver of the RV, Alex Jones (Paul Dano), who is uncooperative but also not fully able to comprehend what’s happening. He has a bewildered face and awful glasses that actually stereotype him to look the part of a kidnapper/child molester. He lives with his aunt (Melissa Leo, unrecognizable except for the eyes) who adopted him after his parents died when he was young. After his arrest and questioning, there is no hard evidence to keep Alex in custody and therefore, he is released. Keller then takes matters into his own hands by capturing Alex and torturing him to tell him what he knows about the girls.
The film spins off into a few directions from there as the audience follows other leads and other persons of interest. There are clues sprinkled throughout the movie that may let you guess who is at fault, but it still may not allow for an easy conclusion. You pity and fear Keller Dover as he desperately tries to find his daughter. He turns from mild-mannered to maniac in a matter of hours. Detective Loki’s odd tics and buttoned-up collar lowers the level of confidence in his investigative skills. And Alex Jones looks guilty, acts guilty and yet, you still feel just the tiniest bit sorry for him.
Mixed in with the back and forth feelings towards the characters (in this case, the men take the lead and the women are mostly useless) is the not-so-subtle religious theme. The opening lines of the movie are "The Lord’s Prayer" and there is praying and religious symbols mentioned and shown throughout the movie including a cringe-worthy snake scene. This religious undertone adds a dark aspect to the already dank feeling of the film. The premise is more complex than a kidnapping and while the conclusion is a bit far-fetched, it knows where to end before going too far.
Final words: Intriguing, intense and makes abduction seem to be secondary in the film’s creepiness factor.
Run time: 2 hours 26 minutes