If you’ve seen the trailer, you’ll probably walk in thinking that you’ve also seen this movie before. You know, the movie where a loved one is kidnapped, the cops are of no help, and a relative of the victim goes after the perpetrator(s). Think “Taken,” “Frantic,” “Ransom,” “Commando.” But, no, you haven’t seen this one. That well-worn premise goes in all sorts of new directions in “Prisoners.”
For one thing, there are two protagonists, both equally involved in solving the crime and setting things straight. Hugh Jackman is Keller Dover, a happy family man whose young daughter (along with a friend’s daughter) vanishes after going out to play during a Thanksgiving dinner. Jake Gyllenhaal is Detective Loki, the loner cop with a record of solving every case he’s been given, who’s assigned this one.
From their first meeting, these two guys are at odds. Keller thinks that the detective isn’t working fast enough and isn’t paying attention to obvious clues, while Loki is convinced that Keller is getting in the way of his investigation. In the film’s early stages, it’s pretty obvious who’s done the kidnapping. It’s that creepy guy Alex Jones (Paul Dano), the fellow with the IQ of a 10-year-old who was sitting in his RV right outside the house where the girls disappeared, and who is arrested. But hold on. There’s no proof, and without proof, a suspect can only be held for questioning for a certain amount of time. After all, this lost soul could have just been parked there to take a brief nap. There are certainly no signs of any struggle inside the RV, and the guy has no record. Although there is a moment, when Keller, against the warnings of the detective, starts following Alex, as Alex is out taking his little dog for a “walk,” that we are assured that he’s a bona fide weirdo.
In one of a very impressive series of twists (this is the only one I’ll give away), a desperate Keller, positive that Alex has his daughter hidden away somewhere, takes Alex himself, and hides him away somewhere, ready to inflict all sorts of barbarous punishment on him if he doesn’t talk. Suffice it to say, he doesn’t talk, and the film, under the tense direction of Denis Villeneuve (“Incendies”), bursts into some sections of pretty darn brutal violence (let’s hear it for the make-up people in those spots where we see the aftermath).
But this isn’t exactly a vigilante film. It’s more of a cat-and-mouse game in which the players are both good guys, both trying to prove who the bad guy is, albeit working in totally different manners. It features a slightly over-the-top performance from the grieving and angry and fiery Jackman, and a strangely and well done underplayed one from Gyllenhaal, whose character has a nicely subtle air of mystery around him, and whose feelings are sometimes revealed through his constant display of nervous blinking tics. It’s a film that’s filled with everyday normal people who are visibly upset, who are playing out a story that’s shocking and nerve-racking, but is something you can’t take your eyes away from as that negative energy ebbs and flows.
Page 2 of 2 - All of this intensity is pushed along by a grim music score that’s often only made up of low notes that are held out for long stretches. It’s a film that has a perfect title, because in the end, it’s very clear that every character is a prisoner of his or her own doing. And speaking of endings, this has got one very cool one.
Ed Symkus covers movies for More Content Now.
Written by Aaron Guzikowski; directed by Denis Villeneuve
With Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Terrence Howard, Maria Bello, Viola Davis, Paul Dano