Cast: Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis, Mario Bello, Terrence Howard
“Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we… as we…”
Ahoy, intelligent moviegoers! Aidan here.
Well, this came out of nowhere. But I am not complaining.
What a rich, effective, and rewarding experience this ended up being. Denis Villeneuve’s Prisoners is a masterfully-crafted film that demands and rewards your attention in equal measure. It showcases one of the greatest performances I’ve ever seen (Jackman’s), and is the best police procedural thriller since David Fincher’s Se7en.
In fact, I’m writing this review a day late because the film did quite a number on me. I rarely have to take time to sleep on a movie, to let it sit in my mind before I feel I can offer any affirmative input.
But Prisoners did exactly that to me. The more I think about the film, the more I love it. No euphemism can do justice to the film’s suffocating atmosphere or seething effectiveness, but “gets under your skin” comes pretty close.
Prisoners chronicles the kidnapping of two little girls and the subsequent search that ensues – both by the police, headed by Detective Loki (Gyllenhaal) and by the girls’ fathers, Keller and Franklin (Jackman and Howard). As the minutes, hours, and days begin to tick away, Keller’s own search grows more and more desperate, forcing him to break his own moral boundaries.
How far would you go to protect your family? I feel like I’m going to use the word “moral” a lot in this review.
I don’t have children. I’m not a parent. But this film shook me deeply. What I first perceived as a “lack of style” (or rather, “not as stylish as Se7en“) ended up being the core of the film’s strength – director Denis Villeneuve’s injects Prisoners with an incredibly authentic sense of real-life pedestrian terror. After walking out of this movie, Taken now registers on the same level of realism as any given Michael Bay film.
The film’s effectiveness lies in its realistic subtleties, character and setting-wise. The setting isn’t consistently drenched in gothic rainfall as it is in Fincher’s Se7en. It’s not pattered with poetic snow night and day. Here is a real world with real people experiencing a real crisis. And it’s terrifying.
There are no clichés or movie tropes to be found. Characters you think you have pegged as “the good guy” or “a badass cop” end up not fulfilling your generalizations, and I love that. Real people are never cartoonishly bound to one or two defining character traits. Real people make mistakes, get annoyed, question loyalties, go back on their word.
Prisoners conveys this beautifully, and its characters’ lack of emotional stability during this understandably disturbing time creates a threat posed not only by whoever took the girls, but by our protagonists themselves.
“Not finding” your child is simply not an option. Everything, everything must be done. Prisoners conveys this with a subtle level of mastery no other film of its kind has ever accomplished.
As a parent, you have to find your child. But as a person, you arrive at an impasse where moral lines must be crossed in order to accomplish this when every second counts.
As stated before, Hugh Jackman’s work here is monumental. I’ve never become distracted by the power of an individual performance while watching a film, but Jackman blew me the hell away. He’s an actor who is very evidently occupied with authentically depicting whatever character he embodied – whether it’s angrily taking an cold shower every morning for The Wolverine or adopting a different style of crying for Prisoners (yes, he is that detail-oriented), Jackman truly shines.
Make no mistake, his supporting cast is equally as terrific. Gyllenhaal delivers a particularly memorable performance, embodying the three-dimensional Detective Loki with certain poise and intensity as yet unseen by the actor. Everyone brings their A-game, elevating material that, if put into the wrong hands, could have easily become schlock.
Here, though, it’s dense, difficult, and haunting. In all the best ways.
Prisoners is a terrifying, slow-burning masterpiece that elegantly and dutifully poses some of the most difficult moral questions of any film I’ve seen. It confidently joins the ranks of The Silence of the Lambs and Se7en as one of the best crime thrillers in modern memory. Go see it!