Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller
Directed by: Denis Villeneuve
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis, Melissa Leo
Despite looking like a waxwork in the poster, Hugh Jackman gives an intense & absorbing performance as a father pushed to the edge in this overlong thriller. His is the story at the centre of this child abduction labyrinth, which asks that universally pivotal question: just how far are you willing to go to protect your family?
The child in question is Anna who, along with her best friend Joy, disappears in broad daylight one Thanksgiving afternoon. Having located & arrested Alex, the owner of a rundown RV parked on the street at the time of the girl’s disappearance, Detective Loki is drafted in to solve the mystery. However, a complete lack of evidence forces Loki to release Alex and begin to pursue various other leads. Still convinced Alex took his daughter and with hours turning to days, Anna’s father Keller kidnaps Alex with intentions of beating the girl’s whereabouts out of him.
Directing his first English language film, Denis Villeneuve brilliantly builds the tension over the first hour. With Roger Deakins creating an uncomfortably haunting atmosphere from behind the camera, the film captures the immediacy of a child abduction case and the strain it puts on all involved as those minutes turn to hours.
The performances are universally impressive with Jake Gyllenhaal bringing the same burning determinism we saw him portray in Zodiac. Playing against type, Jackman’s god-fearing, apocalypse preparing Keller is initially hard to comprehend, but gradually becomes more relatable as the story develops; his unrelenting conviction that the man he has captured knows where his daughter is, is both a terrifying and heartbreaking examination of how such events can blind your rationality. Together with Maria Bello, Terrence Howard & Viola Davis, Villeneuve creates an effectively unsettling portrayal of the tumultuous nightmare unfolding around these characters.
It’s a shame then that as the film goes on and on (and on… pushing 2 and a half hours in length), it begins to run out of steam. The relentlessly twisting final act becomes gradually more absurd with each new reveal, to the point that you are almost beginning to role your eyes. Given just how emotionally involved you become in the story, the ending feels a little too neat; as if there’s a much darker alternative that the studios just wouldn’t allow.
Boasting more than its fair share of fine performances and an enthralling opening hour, Prisoners eventually looses its grip on the narrative, which spirals disappointingly in to the absurd. Whereas both Gone Baby Gone & Changeling left you with your mind spinning, Prisoners is more likely to simply put pressure on your bladder.