Thursday, February 27, 2014

Review: Prisoners (2013)

                                      A Haunting, "Take-No-'Prisoners'" Thriller

                  While we always hear about crime happening in the big city, Prisoners shows us how the most terrifying crimes can happen right in the most quaint places, in particular small-town America and suburbia.

                Prisoners is set in a small town in Pennsylvania where two children go missing. One child's father named Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) tries to take matters into his own hands by kidnapping a suspect named Alex Jones (Paul Dano) who has the IQ of a 10-year-old. While he is trying to find his daughter, a police officer named Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) is on the case of these missing girls but provides his own form of justice.

                What I Liked About It:
               Where do I begin here? First off, I'll say that I loved the masterful direction by Denis Villeneuve. Since Villeneuve is a foreign director, it definitely has the look and feel of a foreign language film, which is good because I'm a sucker for foreign films. It is nice that he is bringing that form of direction over to an American film and to the mainstream as well. Hopefully we see much more foreign directors doing the same thing as it would be nice for them to share their visions and craft with American audiences. I also liked just how silent the film is. By that, I mean it has very little music and that just adds to the creep factor. One thing that I even realized is that the film is mostly set on cloudy days and at night, which to me adds to the film's sinister tone.

                Another thing that I liked was the performances from the cast. Hugh Jackman gives the performance of his career in this film. Love the man as Wolverine but it is hard to top this. When you watch his performance, you feel his heartbreak and angst to find his daughter, yet because he exudes such brutal force, you are a bit frightened by him. Jake Gyllenhaal is also outstanding as Det. Loki, who unlike Jackman's character, is rather more calm and collected but occasionally implodes. I liked how both of their characters were developed because it makes them the yin to each other's yang. Terrence Howard and Viola Davis, who play the other missing child's parents, also do a fine job, as well as Paul Dano and Maria Bello, who plays Dover's wife. But one actress who I'd also like to acknowledge is Melissa Leo, who plays Alex's aunt Holly. Leo is just brilliant as the aunt who may know a little more than she lets on. She has such a calm presence that honestly, I was quite intimidated by her. So kudos to the acting chameleon that is Melissa Leo.
             I also thought it was neat how the film asks us moral questions. Like for example, if someone took someone you love, how far you would go to get that loved one back? Would you be willing to sacrifice your own humanity to see that loved one again? How badly would you hurt the person that took your loved one or would you hurt them? The film is very much a morality tale and the title comes from how we are prisoners of our own morality.

             What I Didn't Like About It:
            One minor complaint I have is that while Terrence Howard, Maria Bello, and Viola Davis gave great performances, I thought they were a bit underused. But to be fair, this film is about Jackman and Gyllenhaal's characters and follows their stories. Plus, this is an ensemble piece so not every actor is front and center. So this is more of a minor nitpick than anything else.

            Overall, Prisoners is a horrific yet morally questioning thriller that will you keep you guessing until the very end. It has terrific performances from the cast, great pacing despite its 2 and a half hour length, and despite having a story we've seen before, offers something new to the table. Highly recommended!

Rating: 4.5/5