When Keller Dover’s (Hugh Jackman) daughter and her friend go missing, he takes matters into his own hands, even as Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) chases down every lead to find the girls before it’s too late.
Hugh Jackman has had an interesting and varied year, career wise, in 2013. Not only did he take on the famed role of Jean Valjean in Les Misérables, but he returned to the character that brought him to public attention with The Wolverine. Now he takes on a character whose world is slowly falling apart, and finds himself grasping at straws to hold it together. Jackman plays Keller as a man so tightly wound, it feels like he may shatter at any moment. Even though he is driven to extreme measures, it is difficult to see Keller as the villain of the piece, as Jackman always manages to keep Keller rooted in reality. The character’s actions may be extreme, but they leave the audience asking themselves what they would do in the same situation.
Jake Gyllenhaal seems to have fallen into a rut of playing police officers recently, but the good news is that he is very good at it. Detective Loki is as tenacious as Keller and, even though he is essentially trying to do the same as Keller, the two often switch places in the audience’s sympathies. No mean feat. Viola Davis balances out the traumatised fathers as a gentle woman whose loss is palpable, Maria Bello treads the fine line between heartbreak and insanity, and Terrence Howard rounds out the parents as a man who will follow his best friend into anything, even if he does not think it is right.
Paul Dano makes a brief but star turn as Alex Jones; the man at the heart of the police investigation, but one who surely was not capable of carrying out this kidnapping alone. Dano treads the line between evil and broken and shows that there is more to him than quirky rom-coms.
Director Denis Villeneuve has created a solid, slow burning thriller with Prisoners. Each character is shown to be rounded and balanced, with equal capacities for good and evil, when driven to it. Suspense hangs over the entire film, with many of the twists coming completely out of left field. Villeneuve’s eye for the dramatic is masterful and, combined with Roger Deakins’s claustrophobic cinematography, leaves Prisoners feeling taut, strained, and utterly gripping. If there were to be a complaint, however, it would be that at times the slow burn is entirely too slow, with huge chunks of time taken up examining sub plots that eventually come to nothing. At 158 minutes, Prisoners is not a quick film and, even though the payoff is rewarding, the film’s running time often works against it.
Prisoners is a masterful examination of the people left behind after a violent and life changing incident. Jackman easily and believably plumbs the depths that people go to for those they love, Deakins’s cinematography is superb – as always – and Villeneuve winds the cast and audience tightly, before allowing information to be drip fed onto the screen. Sadly, the running time does work against the film in places, leaving the pacing a little muddled.