September 27, 2013
The less you know about the story of this film, the better. I went into the theater not knowing anything about "Prisoners" except for the names of its lead actors. I have decided that I will not give you a synopsis so you can still watch the film without knowing the full story.
"Prisoners" attempts to transform a story about a neighborhood kidnapping into something more than just a crime film. When a member of your family becomes a victim of a crime, you will be imprisoned in your own sense of justice. It becomes a thought-provoking film which makes you question your own sense of morality.
The atmosphere created by Director Denis Villeneuve is dark and heavy from the first frame, as Hugh Jackman intones the Lord's Prayer. The cold November rainy weather sets the ominous mood very well. However, two and half hours of a relentlessly downcast mood can take its toll on the audiences. I did feel that the film lost its bearings somehow when scalding showers and snakes entered the scene.
Whatever missteps of the story and direction is made up for by the talented actors who try their best to bring this turgid story to life. It becomes a compelling drama, better than what it may have appeared on paper. The stellar Oscar-caliber stars bring their A-game to elevate this film to a higher level.
Hugh Jackman is explosive here as Keller Dover, the parent with the more extreme reaction to the crime against his family. He is clearly in Wolverine mode here as he gets caught up in his own warped vigilantism. He goes over-the-top in a lot of disturbing scenes, but it was that quiet moment when he recognizes a bloody item of clothing that was his best scene.
Jake Gyllenhaal does very well as the dedicated officer in charge of the case, with a name as unlikely as Detective Loki. His best scene is when he was driving through the freeway in the pouring rain with a bleeding wound on his head further distorting his vision, rushing to bring a dying person to the hospital.
Maria Bello plays Keller's unstable wife, trapped by her own addiction to sleeping pills. I do not like her past work, but here she was actually good despite her irritating character. Terrence Howard and Viola Davis play the Birches, close friends of the Dovers. They are generally calm people but circumstances force them to turn a blind eye and even become accomplices to another crime.
Paul Dano plays a mentally-challenged guy named Alex Jones. He somehow gets us to feel sympathy for his creepy character. Melissa Leo plays his adoptive mother Holly. Their behavior will keep you guessing as to their involvement in the case on hand, if any.
Overall, this can be a very compelling film that will keep you guessing. However, this is a lengthy, deliberately slow paced film. Despite its good intentions, I feel that it could have been edited into something less meandering and repetitive. A film like this dragged too long is bound to give rise to questionable plot devices and bad red herrings, and this one unfortunately has both. 6/10.