‘Prisoners’ Movie Review – Uncomfortably Numb
The best movies, in my opinion, make you uncomfortable. They’re the movies that actually make you think. Usually they make you think about what you’d do if you were in the characters’ shoes. In the case of Denis Villeneuve’s (Incendies) Prisoners, it looks directly at the audience and asks: what would you do for your children? While the story isn’t flawless, it’s refreshing to see a thriller that is genuinely thrilling – both looking and feeling the part – without losing its brutal side.
As you can tell, Prisoners is a terrifyingly simple premise with a complicated moral compass. It’s the story of two families that deal with their two daughters disappearing. What starts as a friendly Thanksgiving turns into every family’s worst nightmare when Anna Dover (Erin Gerasimovich) and Joy Birch (Kyla Drew Simmons) go missing. In the wake of their disappearance, a creepy RV driver named Alex Jones (Paul Dano) becomes the prime suspect. Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) must navigate a string of clues and deception in order to find whoever is responsible.
One of the biggest obstacles becomes Anna’s father Keller (Hugh Jackman). Portrayed as a religious, but paranoid, father, Keller gives his best-Liam Neeson-in-Taken impression when he uses his own renegade tactics to find his daughter…by any means necessary.
Prisoners is a thriller through-and-through. At a long 2.5 hours, it uses every bit of screen time – even the events leading up to the inevitable kidnapping – to create as much tension as possible. Villeneuve deserves a lot of the credit for creating equally brutal and terrifying situations…some of which were literally arm hair-raising.
However, the bigger compliment goes to the always amazing Roger Deakins. It has the perfect blend of light and dark, which is both significant to the film’s story and its look. It should be a benchmark for all thrillers to strive for in terms of cinematography.
They also use every bit of screen time to create a wide range of characters with a whole lot of gray area. It’s easy to see Keller going this route, but Joy’s parents (played by Terrence Howard and Viola Davis) go different routes than you’d probably imagine. The brutality of the script and plot ultimately focus in on the characters and their actions, again asking the audience: what would you do?
While it does ask the right questions, that’s not to say Prisoners is absolutely perfect. To build the suspense and runtime, they relied on a great deal of red herrings. Other people would simply call them “plot devices” or “plot inconveniences.” Whichever term you use, it does feel a little bit cheap.
On the other end of this, though, is their ability to continually surprise you. Even when you feel cheated by some of the twists, the bigger ones probably make you forgive and forget. It’s not until later you realize some of the them might not make a whole lot of sense.
While I hate using the word “manipulative” (because every movie is manipulating you some way), Prisoners did seem a little heavy-handed with their portrayal of the biggest themes. There is a lot of room for religion in the movie, but it seemed like too much of a priority from the very beginning.
These are little gripes in the grand scheme of things. With almost any movie, the more you try to nitpick, the more you’ll find. Denis Villeneuve’s Prisoners does a lot of things right, including their development of characters (and their subsequent performances). The plot could’ve come together in a number of feasible ways, which seemed like a difficult task given the limited amount of suspects. Even if it seemed a bit off at times, it’s easy to get engrossed in the movie, both feeling and seeing the tension. All this makes it an uncomfortable movie with a lot of deep questions…that leaves just one unanswered.
Prisoners opened in wide release this weekend. Check out the rest of the releases if you’re interested.
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