I’m not really one for thrillers, but that’s probably because deep down, I’m a big baby and I don’t like getting scared. Well, “Prisoners” is one of those movies that makes you cringe, and then leaves you with your cringing facial expression because you expect to start cringing again at any moment.
As the trailer unfortunately gives away many of the twists in “Prisoners”, I will say that this is the story of two men. One, Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) whose child, and another close family friend’s child, have been kidnapped by an unknown third-party. The other man we follow is Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal), a man who seems somewhat disinterested in the case at first, but soon pours his entire being into locating Dover’s child. For crying out loud, he’s messing around on his smart phone during his first conversation with Grace (Maria Bello), Keller’s wife!
Keller turns into a brutal man who will stop at nothing to find his daughter. His neighbor, Franklin (Terrence Howard) is soon dragged into the field of battle and deceit as he starts to realize just how far Keller will go to get what he wants.
Paul Dano plays Alex Jones, the man accused of kidnapping Keller’s daughters. He’s practically devoid of speech, but opens his mouth at the wrong time and before you know it, Keller’s fist is in his face. Jones is an adult who never seemed to grow up, yet appears to withhold psychotic tendencies.
Director Denis Villeneuve worked closely with writer Aaron Guzikowski to weave together this unrelenting thriller, filled with plenty of twists and turns to keep the audience guessing. Cinematographer Roger Deakins of Coen Brothers fame has also left his fingerprint on “Prisoners”. Every close up is staged almost perfectly. The camera tells us a story without words. The overwhelming feeling of dread in the life of Keller Dover only increases as the color throughout the film becomes more drab and gritty. The walls feel lifeless and cold. For something so dark, it sure looks so pretty.
The title of “Prisoners” likely gives audiences the impression that it implies the two little girls who have been kidnapped, but in some real sense, as Keller locks up Alex Jones, we realize Keller has become a criminal himself. His relentless pursuit has become his own vice, and he become no better than his enemy.
There is a religious undertone throughout “Prisoners” as Keller uses the Lord’s Prayer as some sort of penance for his forgiveness, that he can get away with the dark decisions he makes. Oh how far one has fallen from grace, yet he believes his choices will be worth it in the long run, that he may save his daughters, based on his idea of justice and his predilection on who knows where his daughter is.
“Prisoners” is a dark descent into the human condition and leaves the audience feeling a little clammy. It’s not so much something that is fun to watch, but maybe something that leaves you thinking, perhaps. Nevertheless, it is indeed a solid effort and helps to redeem the already weak year for Hollywood.