Prisoners is so much more than a take justice into your own hands movie. Director Denis Villeneuve has weaved a web that sizzles and simmers upon a multitude of layers. Hugh Jackman is a father whose daughter disappears, along with his friend and neighbor’s daughter. That is merely scratching the surface of the Prisoners plot.
One Thanksgiving, Jackman’s Keller Dover and his wife Grace (Maria Bello) are over at their family friends' home for the holiday meal. It is established that Franklin and Nancy Birch (Terrence Howard and Viola Davis) and the Dovers share young daughters around the same age as well as Dover’s son and Birch’s daughter both being teenagers.
When the two youngsters leave the Birch home to head to the Dovers' for a quick moment… they never return.
What truly begins the terrifying journey that is teased in the Prisoners trailer is how screenwriter Aaron Guzikowski’s story immediately takes the audience into the horror that is the first moments when a child disappears. We’ve all seen plenty of films and TV programs that chronicle the search for a child. But, rarely has it taken the immediacy of the first moments of Prisoners.
There is panic. There is horror. There is worry. There are a myriad of emotions, and they are all on display through the powerful performances that are just getting started by Jackman, Bello, Howard and Davis on this cinematic journey.
Then, we meet Jake Gyllenhaal’s Detective Loki. He is assigned to the case and although he is doing everything he can… we sense that the families -- particularly Keller -- does not think that it is enough.
A suspect is arrested, Paul Dano’s Alex Jones. He has the mental ability of a ten-year-old and when it is determined that he could not have committed the crime, he is let go. It is then that the morality questions start coming at the audience with the rapid fire nature of an emotional machine gun. How far would you go when it comes to the safety of your children? And that is merely the first chapter of this intricate study in human nature and how far our society has supposedly come interpersonally since we were drawing on cave walls.
Jackman is astounding. He has never given a performance of such power in his life. That is saying something -- merely months after he wowed us in Les Miserables. And then there is Gyllenhaal. What begins as a somewhat routine investigation quickly spirals into an emotional roller coaster that finds the young actor delving deeper than he ever has before. His detective exhibits a menagerie of frustration, determination, defeat and self righteousness that will either ultimately get these girls killed or save their lives. It is his most powerful work of his career as well.
There is a razor thin line between right and wrong in Prisoners that is continually being altered as each frame sizzles for its audience. Twists and turns in the plot arise and abate leaving the viewer not only continually guessing, but also gasping as the clock ticks and the moment those girls disappeared inches further and further into the past.
Our Prisoners review believes that the film is an “almost” masterpiece. It is also one of those films that is honestly difficult to watch. Villeneuve’s movie may not be one that you can see again, but it is so thick with resonance, that merely one viewing will stick with its audience for a lifetime.