IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 153 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Keller Dover attends a Thanksgiving dinner with his family at the house of their neighbours, the Birches. After dinner, the families’ young daughters, Anna Dover and Joy Birch, go missing. After a police hunt, an RV that had been parked in the neighbourhood is found outside a gas station next to a wooded area. When Detective Loki goes to confront the RV’s driver, Alex Jones, Alex tries to speed away, and crashes into the trees. Alex, who has the mental age of 12, is captured by the police and questioned, but released due to lack of evidence. Keller attacks him in a parking lot where Alex says to him: “They only cried when I left them”. While Loki uses more acceptable means to try and hunt down the kidnapper, Keller, convinced Alex knows where the girls are, abducts him and, determined to get the truth out of him, after imprisons him an abandoned, run-down apartment building he owns….
Mentioned as being much like Zodiac but actually far closer to something like Mystic River in feel , Prisoners manages, amazingly, to be almost as good as those two fine films. It’s a striking thriller that takes the viewer on a gripping ride without resorting much silliness or the typical histrionics. It’s also extremely morally ambiguous and complex, deliberately setting out to make any viewer uncomfortable. Make no mistake, despite not containing things like jump scares or gratuitous gore [though there is at least one really uncomfortable scene of brutality] this is a really dark film, a brave, intense experience that doesn’t give you any easy answers and asks questions about things like responsibility and what is justifiable. Moving leisurely but never once losing its grip over two and a half hours, it’s full of twists and turns and, while restrained in its ‘action’, makes simple things like a search in a cellar the most scary of things. Meanwhile Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaul are simply stunning in their lead roles and deserve Oscar nominations. Jackman goes darker and deeper into the human psyche then he has ever done before and constantly changes your perception of his character, while Gyllenhaul, though having the less flashy role, gives his rather straight forward character immense depth by really clever nuances. Some of the film’s best scenes simply have the two guys talking, the incredible performances and Aaron Guzikowsk’s excellent dialogue doing the work.
This is not to say the film doesn’t look great, the always excellent work of Roger Deakins really shining in this, creating some beautiful compositions often involving darkness and rain. The one over-the-top scene, a drive to save someone’s life, is shot in the most gorgeous manner and made me think of Taxi Driver no less. A few elements of the plot are not too well thought through and to be honest the last half an hour is distinctly weaker than what preceeds it. Overall this remains a fine and intelligent movie….though expect to feel very uneasy afterwards. I do….though I mean that as a compliment. Even if you don’t enjoy it, you’ll think about it. But that title….hey come on, you could have thought of something better.