|HUGH JACKMAN as Kellen Dover in Alcon Entertainment's dramatic thriller "PRISONERS," a Warner Bros. Pictures release.|
Photo credit: Wilson Webb
©2013 ALCON ENTERTAINMENT, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
2013, 146 minutes
Rated R for disturbing violent content including torture, and language throughout
Review by Joshua Handler
Hands-down the bleakest and most disturbing thriller of the year – and the longest – Oscar-nominee Denis Villeneuve’s (Incendies) Prisoners is a realistic look at what happens to a family when a child is kidnapped.
Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) is the father of two kids. One day, while Dover and his wife (Maria Bello) are at their friends’ (Terrence Howard and Viola Davis) house for Thanksgiving, his young daughter and the friends’ young daughter go missing. With a detective (Jake Gyllenhaal) on the case and the rest of the police taking too much time, Keller decides to take matters into his own hands.
Many directors do not transition well to Hollywood, but with Prisoners, Villeneuve shows that his mastery of filmmaking and the emotional force he brought to Incendies transferred quite well. Villeneuve brought an uncompromising and uncomfortable vision to Incendies in 2011. There are scenes from that film burned in my mind due to their emotional impact. With Prisoners, Villeneuve brings the same uncompromising bleakness and brutality to the front and creates a truly riveting work.
Many directors do not transition well to Hollywood, but with Prisoners, Villeneuve shows that his mastery of filmmaking and the brute force of his craft transferred quite well. Villeneuve brought an uncompromising and uncomfortable vision to Incendies in 2011. There are scenes from that film burned in my mind due to their emotional impact. With Prisoners, Villeneuve brings the same uncompromising bleakness and brutality to the front and creates a truly riveting work.
At 146 minutes long, Prisoners grows tiring, but that is precisely the point – Villeneuve made his film long so that we would feel what Dover is going through. Everything begins to get tedious, just as the search does.
Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal turn in career-best performances. Jackman is a powerhouse, showing moments of rage, pain, and sadness sometimes in the course of a single scene. Gyllenhaal, though, is the standout. As the detective trying to find the two missing girls, Gyllenhaal shows a complete commitment to his role. The frustration and commitment that he shows as Detective Loki makes this his most powerful performance to date. Paul Dano is frighteningly convincing in his role and Terrence Howard is the strongest he has been in years.
Master cinematographer Roger Deakins’ (True Grit, Skyfall) cinematography is magnificent. It is simple and elegant. However, during a tense climactic sequence, he really shows off his mastery of shooting action. That scene alone should get him his eleventh Oscar nomination.
The screenplay by Aaron Guzikowski (Contraband) is solid, but is the weakest part of the film due to a bit of messiness and an unoriginal reveal. For the first 110-120 minutes, Prisoners is tightly structured and full of intriguing scenes. However, once the final reveal is revealed, it is disappointing, as it is not original, shocking, or satisfying. Prisoners has so many subplots that when everything is revealed, everything is tied up, but not tightly enough. The final scene is brilliant.
Overall, Prisoners is an impressively made thriller that will catch most audiences off guard. Few will be prepared for the brutal torture scenes and bleak tone of the film, but those willing to stick with Prisoners will be amply rewarded.