Director: Denis Villeneuve
Stars: Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Terrence Howard
Sentence Summary: A morally ambiguous story about the lengths people will go to when someone they love is in danger.
I didn’t realize that I could watch an entire movie perched on the very edge of my seat, completely abandoning my popcorn and comfort, until I watched Prisoners. It is a story that has been done and redone, and the twists and turns, while present, are not shocking. However this movie is made into something special, thanks to its beautiful and captivating depiction of grief and desperation. I would even go so far as to say that it was my favourite 2013 movie.
Prisoners tells the story of two families, brought together on Thanksgiving, both with young daughters around six years old. Late into the evening, the families discover that their daughters are gone. A frantic search ensues yielding no results other than the fact that they were seen playing by an old motorhome. The police are contacted and discover said motorhome, along with its mentally disabled driver. Convinced of the driver’s guilt, even after the evidence points away from him and towards nothing but dead ends, one of the fathers (Jackman), takes the duty of finding his daughter into his own hands. His tactics are severe, and they pose a moral dilemma for the audience as this supposed victim turns cruel. His quest for vengeance is hindered by the lead detective assigned to the girls’ case (Gyllenhaal).
This film is able to avoid becoming another cliché action movie thanks to one empowering aspect: the characters. The mesmerizing portrayal of a desperate group of people defines this movie. While the entire cast shines in their performances, Jackman and Gyllenhaal are the most noteworthy. Jackman is remarkable because he so perfectly depicts that all-consuming fear that anyone would have when faced with the disappearance of a loved one. The extreme and questionable measures he takes in response to this fear seem almost justified as his duty to protect his little girl expends his every thought. Then there is Gyllenhaal’s character, the cop who has never left a case unsolved, who meets his match with these missing girls. Tattooed and mysterious, this character is intriguing from the start. As he dedicates his every waking moment to helping these strangers, never shying away from dangerous or shady circumstances, one cannot help but to develop a strong sense of respect for this rough-around-the-edges detective. Paul Dano also excels in his complex and layered role, as do Terrence Howard and Viola Davis… I could go on and on about the characters in this movie.
This is the first full-length English film by French-Canadian director Denis Villeneuve, but his lack of experience with English Hollywood filmmaking does nothing to hinder this film. Apart from the cast, this film resonates thanks to the persistent dreariness in the setting and minimal soundtrack, which perfectly reflect the realistic mood and feeling of the film. The cast is superb and the story is thrilling, and the message leaves the audience questioning where the line is when the life of a loved one is in question. In a world where the victims are so often just that, and are left helpless and weak, facing a situation that is out of their control, this film, while it does not condone the drastic vigilantism it portrays, offers the audience a feeling of empowerment thanks to Jackman and Gyllenhaal’s characters’ unwavering determination to find these little girls.
Verdict: See it! Especially if you want to pass a few hours in what feels like a few highly intense minutes, or if you need to be reminded that there are still gifted actors and directors roaming around in Hollywood.
Photos courtesy of Internet Movie Database (imdb.com)