Director: Denis Villeneuve
Starring: Hugh Jackman (Les Miserables), Jake Gyllenhall (Zodiac)
Genre: Drama, Crime, Thriller
Intense is the operative word when it comes to Prisoners. The film, about child abduction and the emotional fallout for two sets of parents from that, has very innocent beginnings. However the over arching sense of dread begins from the moment a suspicious looking RV is approached by the two young soon to be abductees in question. This sense of dread never goes away, as it contorts into feelings of unease, fear and disgust throughout the two and a half hour emotional slog to the finish line. What makes that lengthy amount of time fly by, is how the story continually surprises you, and how you genuinely never feel comfortable in any assumptions over where the film is now, where it is going, or where it will end up.
The film contains shocking images and sequences that will be, for some, more disturbing than most Horror flicks, with director Denis Villeneuve shirking the temptation to copy the smash-and-grab ‘surprise’ tactics of most Horrors to merely make you jump, while not necessarily making you scared. Make no mistake, Prisoners is no Horror film, but it must be said that it does have some horrific (and horrifically good) content. Needless to say, if you’ve ever wondered how terrifyingly decrepit and pitiful a man looks after being beaten within an inch of his life for over a week, then you need only lay your eyes upon Paul Dano about a third into this film, sporting some of the most surprising, graphic and realistic make-up in recent memory, and displaying acting chops not seen from him arguably since There Will Be Blood.
It must be said that Dano, for lack of a better phrase, knocks it out of the park with his performance of convicted (but guilty?) child abductor Alex Jones. And not to belittle the performance by Hugh Jackman of the distraught Dad driven to criminality, but with him it’s almost becoming run-of-the-mill to be garnered with praise, and it is really Jake Gyllenhall who one should look to to find a display matching Dano. Well known for his innocent, schoolboy, wide-eyed shtick in the likes of Donnie Darko or The Day After Tomorrow, here he shows a maturity and masculinity not seen from him before, complete with ticks and mannerisms worthy of such a deep character.
This is the case with all the characters. All are drawn three-dimensionally, with a wonderful level of balance, or maybe more aptly referred to as imbalance, with things to like and dislike, especially in the two main characters of Jackman and Gyllehnall. While audiences may feel they root for Jackman in his fight to find his daughter, the movie questions your loyalty as his judgement begins to fail, clouded by love and yearning. With Gyllenahall as the inspector in charge of the case, audiences will admire his determination to solve the crime, but may be turned by his inability to see important factors pass him by, as he is forced to stray from the main objective by his suspicions over Jackman. These conflicts really work as they evolve throughout the film and they serve to keep interest engaged for the duration.
Summary: Gyllenhall is no stranger to playing an investigator on a significant criminal case, after his turn in David Fincher’s Zodiac. While, after all has been said, Zodiac may be a superior film, that doesn’t prevent Prisoners from being a top-quality, very substantial Crime-Thriller, fraught with tension, surprises and excitement.
Rating: 4 out of 5