When I decided that the first review I would write for The Yard would be on Prisoners, I was concerned about the film’s subject matter. Starring a talented cast of actors in the form of Hugh Jackman, the still ridiculously handsome Jake Gyllenhaal, Terrace Howard, Viola Davis and more, Prisoners is a story about two families whose young daughters are kidnapped and how far their parents are willing to go to find them. I was worried that as a college student I wouldn’t be qualified to critique a movie where drama relies on an aspect of life I can’t fully understand, but Prisoners does what any good movie should: it removes all barriers imposed by the viewer’s life experience through intelligent writing and superb acting.
The movie opens with carpenter and family man Kellar Dover (Jackman in what is widely considered one of his best roles to date) reciting the Lord’s Prayer before his son can shoot the turkey that will be their Thanksgiving dinner. While providing some insight into the character of Dover, opening a movie with The Lord’s Prayer in this way borderlines pretentiousness and the movie’s brief encounters with Christianity don’t seem to serve any purpose beyond providing the few clichés to be found in Prisoners.
However, that character insight explains a phrase repeated by Dover three times in the film: “Be ready” (or pray to God). The sad irony of Prisoners is that even a pseudo-doomsday prepper like Dover – who has a basement stocked with emergency supplies just in case – can’t be ready for the life-halting event of losing a child.
At hardly any point in Prisoners is the movie an enjoyable experience. The only exception to this are some of the exchanges between Dover and Detective Loki (Gyllenhaal), the officer assigned to the abductions case who has a perfect record and wants Dover to leave him alone and “just let me do my job.” Dover keeps bothering him because both families believe they know who took their children: the owner of the mysterious RV parked on their street the day of the kidnapping.
After the RV is spotted nearby, the owner tries to escape but is brought into custody and revealed as Alex Jones (Paul Dano). As one might expect from his body of work, Dano plays an incredibly creepy character, but with the IQ of a 10-year-old, and with no real evidence, the police release him. Shortly after, he disappears.
The movie’s trailers hint at an important part of the film: The parents don’t let Jones walk free. Dover kidnaps Jones himself, and along with the other grief-stricken father Franklin Birch (Terrace Howard), they tie him up in an old building and proceed to torture him. Most of the actual physical abuse is happens off-screen, but we see the results on what is left of Jones’s face, and it is one of the most horrifying remnants of violence I have seen in a movie. To those who haven’t seen it yet, you have been warned.
It is important to note that everyone faces doubt about how they deal with Jones. Aside from the mystery of the missing children, torture is the driving point of Prisoners, and Dover tries to justify it to Birch by saying, “We hurt them until he talks or they are going to die. That’s the choice we have to make…” Whether or not he is right will be up to the audience.
Equally as impressive as the acting is the movie’s production. Prisoners was directed by French Canadian Denis Villeneuve, best known for his work in the 2010 Academy Award nominee for Best Foreign Film Incendies. With this film, Villeneuve once again proved that he is highly capable of delivering thrilling and intimate mysteries, even when, as in this film, they are a little too long.
Villeneuve and Roger Deakins teamed up to create a world full of browns, grays and blues and very little sunny weather – and the movie is all the more beautiful because of it. One scene near the end involving cars was one of the most simultaneously intense and striking action sequences in recent memory.
There was a lot of noise in the showing of Prisoners I was in. But it wasn’t cell phones or high-school students gossiping; it was the frantic questions of “What is happening” or “Turn around!” and a frequent chorus of gasps. Director Denis Villeneuve has once again made a thriller intelligent enough to predominately spend its time patient and creepy. When the movie does pick up the pace, its’ action is grounded and drawn out and in turn will leave audiences exhausted.
While the movie isn’t without flaws – I could have used more time with Loki and less time with meaningless religious subtext – it is still one of the best movies I have seen this year. It is also a movie that will successfully lead you to empathize with the desperation of parents with a missing child, even if you aren’t a parent yourself.
Tickets provided by Cinebarre Theater in Mt. Pleasant.
*The views in this article represent the opinion of the author, and not those of CisternYard News.