In A Nutshell: If you can stomach the film's intense and graphic scenes, the film is worth it! Prisoners is 2013's ”Silence of the Lambs.” It is that damn good!
At first glance, Prisoners may seem nothing more than a dark, cliché and an unoriginal thriller. There is nothing new about the all too common story of child abduction and the havoc it wreaks on families and communities. But Canadian director Denis Villeneuve avoids all the pitfalls of having a big budget Hollywood debut (he received an Oscar nomination for his first foreign-language film Incendies) and delivers a truly riveting, intense and satisfying thriller we haven’t seen in years.
The filmmaker’s directing skills, brilliant editing and excellent cast brings a heavily worn story line to life. Strap in for this rollercoaster ride because this ride is filled with a story that draws you in relying on exceptional acting, writing and directing.
Villeneuve enlisted cinematographer Roger Deakins to capture the wet and chilly atmosphere of a typical bland suburban Pennsylvania community surrounded by woods. This is the setting where two neighboring families are having dinner together when their two 6-year-old daughters go missing. The film which is so tightly woven that it wastes no scenes as we gradually learn more about the characters in play. Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) is a struggling carpenter who seems to be one of those survivalists who clings to guns and religion, but Jackman and Villeneuve avoid playing Keller as a formula right-wing nutcase. Instead, Jackman gives what may be the most intense and satisfying performance of his career by painting Keller as a loving father whose impatience you would expect from any father in this situation. Even when Keller takes Alex (Paul Dano), a spooky quiet suspect in the girl’s disappearance, captive as his prisoner and subjects him to such torture you can only wonder, if it was your child, would you do the same? Franklin (Terrence Howard) and his wife (Viola Davis), the parents of the other missing girl and Keller’s friends, have qualms about Keller taking matters into his own brutal hands. Nevertheless, they do not interfere nor stop it. The film acknowledges Keller’s fanatical ways, but at the same time leaves you with a sense that he may have legitimate reasons for his suspicion of Alex.
Aaron Guzikowski's screenplay is so wonderfully written that as the story unwines we empathize with the imperfect, torturing hero. It pulls us slowly into understanding that maybe some of Keller's aggressive behavior is to overcome his feelings of inadequacy as recovering alcoholic. Is he trying to compensate for being a poor husband and father? Jackman portrays this twisted man with such force that you forget that he has taken justice into his own hands.
Villeneuve has found the right balance of frequently cutting away to follow the lead police detective (Jake Gyllenhaal), when Keller’s handling and interrogation of Alex makes us want to flinch. Gyllenhaal is an apprehensive loner who determinedly and cleverly rebels against his inept superiors. He has a driven urgency that we appreciate when we hear about a small piece of his childhood. Melissa Leo wins again in a minor role as the suspect's aunt.
Villeneuve takes ever bit of the two and a half hours to knit all the plot and characters together, tightening the noose as he goes. For most riding this coaster, there are some oh s--- moments as the film twists into the dark tunnels as it rolls to its penetrating conclusion. The film definitely deserves an R rating for its violence and terror. But Prisoners also deserves an A+ for the smart plot twists and tension build up that makes one recall the great Hitchcock films capped off by the final scene achieving a flawless ending.