I can’t speak from experience, but I’m pretty sure that the thought of having your child or children abducted is every parent’s worse nightmare. It’s something traumatic enough to really mess with a person’s mind and body in such a way that they may resort to actions that they never would have thought possible. From this idea comes Prisoners, a morally heavy film that really shows that in extreme situations, morals lines may shake or disappear all together, but wouldn’t all of us do anything to protect our children?
Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) is a deeply religious man with a loving wife (Maria Bello), a son, and a young daughter. On Thanksgiving, Keller and his family spend time with their neighborhood friends Franklin (Terrance Howard) and Nancy (Viola Davis), who also have two daughters of their own. After dinner Dover’s daughter and one of Franklin’s daughters go missing when they go outside to play. The police are called and Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal), who is claimed never to have lost a case, is assigned to find their daughters. When a suspect is found in the man-child Alex Jones (Paul Dano), there appears to be hope, but there isn’t enough evidence against him and his Aunt (Melissa Leo) is determined that there is no way he could have done such a thing. As Detective Loki has to battle to stay within the realm of the law during his investigation, Keller decides to take matters into his own hands.
Emotionally, this is a very heavy movie. Right in the first fifteen minutes I felt an unbelievable dread. Not only is the subject matter heavy, but the look of everything is so gray and uninviting throughout the whole movie. It always seems to be raining. On top of how horrible this movie makes you feel, the run time of two and a half hours doesn’t make things any easier. But seriously, this movie is loooooooong. I’d say it’s a little bit longer than it needs to be. I could see it clocking in at a little over two hours, but two and a half going on three is kind of pushing it. There’s a surprising amount of things that happen in Prisoners which led the story to place I didn’t think it was going to go. This is cool and all, but a little but of trimming would do the movie a lot of good.
The real draw of this movie is the performances. Just look at the cast. It’s unbelievable. Hugh Jackman gives an Oscar worthy performance as Keller and makes us sympathize, yet cringe at what he is doing and going through. Maria Bello and Viola Davis are both great, yet different, as the two grieving mother with Bello giving a more fragile performance than the strong willed Viola. Jake Gyllenhaal gives a very grounded performance as Detective Loki is what I may argue is his best performance and Terrance Howard, though not onscreen too often, gives a very quiet but tragic performance. Finally, Paul Dano and Melissa Leo are both excellent as always as they seem to have completely morphed into the characters they are playing.
Finally, I need to give a special nod to the cinematographer, Roger Deakins, who really gives his all with the dramatic lighting that is seen in Prisoners. A lot of what is seen seems pretty natural, as it should, and the exteriors all have a gray look, but there are times where the drama picks up that the lighting looks fantastic. There’s great exposures for silhouettes and very hard, foreboding lighting that really shows the gravity of a scene. Deakins has also been the cinematographer for a lot of the Coen Brothers movies like No Country For Old Men and The Big Lebowski and also did beautiful work in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. I would check any of his movies works on.
Prisoners is a very powerful and draining movie whose only hinderance is a run time that goes on a little bit too long. The content is very difficult, and to have to sit through that for such a long time may put some people off and that’s totally understandable. Still, this is a fantastic movie with some fantastic performers giving everything they have to their roles. This is not a movie that should be missed.