Jan 27, 2015

Review: Prisoners (2013)

Following his nomination for Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards in 2010, French-Canadian director Denis Villeneuve has been pretty busy. Prisoners and Enemy were both released in 2013 and both of them had Jake Gyllenhaal interestingly enough. As a fellow countryman, I'm happy to see Villeneuve succeed and I hope his track record of success continues.

Prisoners assembles quite the cast and I can safely say that it features some incredible performances. That's why it's surprising to me that the film didn't get any acting nominations for the Academy Awards or the Oscars. It's nice that Prisoners did get a nomination for Best Cinematography at the Academy Awards, but that's no surprise when you got Roger Deakins as cinematographer. I would've just thought that at least one actor in Prisoners could've gotten something. 2013 was a crazy year for cinema though, which is why Prisoners was unfortunately pushed out. 


Genre: crime, drama, thriller
Directed by: Denis Villeneuve
Produced by: Kira Davis, Broderick Johnson, Adam Kolbrenner, etc.
Written by: Aaron Guzikowski
Music by: Jóhann Jóhannsson
Running time: 153 minutes
Production company: Alcon Entertainment, 8:38 Productions, Madhouse Entertainment
Distributed by: Warner Bros., Entertainment One, Pony Canyon, etc.
Country: United States
Language: English
Budget: $46,000,000
Box office: $122,126,687 (Worldwide)

IMDb entry
Rotten Tomatoes entry

Starring: Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis, Maria Bello, Terrence Howard, Melissa Leo, Paul Dano, Dylan Minnette, Zoë Soul, Erin Gerasimovich, Kyla Drew Simmons, Wayne Duvall, Len Cariou, David Dastmalchian, Brad James, Anthony Reynolds, Robert C. Treveiler, Sandra Ellis Lafferty



Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) and his family go to a Thanksgiving dinner being hosted by their neighbour Franklin Birch (Terrance Howard) and his family. Things go well until they realize that the youngest of each family has gone missing. Anna (Erin Gerasimovich) and Joy (Kyla Drew Simmons) are nowhere to be found. Ralph Dover (Dylan Minnette) remembers an RV that was parked nearby that seemed suspicious, which leads Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) who's working on the case to a potential suspect in the young girls' disappearance. 


Hugh Jackman's performance in Prisoners is probably the most memorable of them all as a father willing to do anything to find his young daughter. Keller Dover is a character which makes us ask ourselves just how far we'd go to protect our loved ones. Perhaps that's an answer we would only want to find out if we were in his shoes, but it's an interesting look at morality and parenthood. 

Jackman definitely dominates the screen, but I do think that Villeneuve pushes him just a little bit too hard. I'm more of a fan of Jake Gyllenhaal's less showy effort. You never know with 100% certainty what's going on in Detective Loki's head which I like and I just can't get enough of how at ease Gyllenhaal comes off. 

The story has its fair share of twists and turns and they're all quite enjoyable. I particularly loved the moment when all the pieces of the puzzle finally came together, even though I think I was a bit slow on the uptake. I'm usually pretty good at piecing stories together, but I won't deny that I did end up looking at the plot on Wikipedia to work out the kinks that I still had at the end of the movie. There are quite a few elements that are open to interpretation and that's another aspect I honestly like.

Be prepared though, this is not a movie for the squeamish. There are some very intense scenes that show off just how skilled the makeup department working on Prisoners was. (Spoilers) The scene where you see the bloodied and swollen Alex Jones (Paul Dano) is quite disturbing and I'm not sure when I'll get that image out of my head. (End Spoilers) Apparently Villeneuve had to edit out a few frames in order to secure an R-rating instead of the cursed NC-17.

What also works extremely well in Prisoners is the atmosphere. It's moody, dark and quite intimidating at times. At times it'll even get downright creepy. There's a scene in particular where a character sneaks around inside the Dover household and I couldn't shake how violating the whole thing felt. There aren't many movies that are as saturated with unpleasantness as Prisoners is and I mean that in a good way.

One of the key reasons why Prisoners is so unsettling is the cinematography. You can never say enough good things about Roger Deakins and he works his magic once again as he dresses up the story with his abilities. You can also see how some of the shots were storyboarded well in advance before being shot and I couldn't help but appreciate that. For example, a frame of the cross hanging from Keller Dover's rear-view mirror as the Dovers exit their house is simple, but just adds an additional layer of depth visually, but storywise as well.

Aaron Guzikowski's script easily could've been translated to the screen in spineless fashion. With how many years it took to finally get Prisoners going, that possibility could've been reality. Luckily that's not what happened and anyone who enjoys a fine thriller should be pleased. With a great cast giving solid performances and its very many questions regarding morality, Prisoners is very much worth its two hour and a half run time.



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