CAUTION - Mild Spoilers
Prisoners is a tense and incredibly well thought out thriller film directed by Denis Villenueve, who is a director of popular foreign films such as Incendies, Polytechnique and Maelstrom. The film touches on familiar themes that we all have seen in films. The plot is fairly unoriginal but in the matter that it plays out is filled with incredibly performances thanks to the stellar cast and a masterfully crafted tone throughout the film. This also marks Villenueve's first film in the States, and it surely will not be the last. Granted, he benefits from having one of the best cinematographers in Hollywood, Roger Deakins. Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Terrance Howard and Paul Dano give some of their best performances in what is already my favorite movie of the year.
The plot, as I have said, is not entirely original. It follows Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) and his family as they head to their friends house. Franklin Burch (Terrance Howard) and Nancy Burch (Viola Davis) greet the Dover family for a nice Thanksgiving dinner. While the adults talk over some drinks, the youngest daughters on both sides of the family ask to go back to the Dover household down the street to retrieve a toy. The parents approve and after sometime has passed by they realize that their daughters are gone and missing. This obviously sends them into a panic and they call the police where they put their best man on the job, Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal). Loki has an outstanding record for finding missing children and piecing together a case quickly, but with this case he struggles to put the pieces together. The main suspect who drove a van near the children earlier in the day of the abduction, Alex Jones (Paul Dano), is believed to know what happened but due to his low IQ the cops and parents are left with even more questions.
These questions lead both Dover and Loki to result to some pretty desperate measures as they both attempt to find the missing children before it is too late. Loki believes that the best course of action would be to investigate other leads, which most people think are too far-fetched to amount to anything substantial. Whereas Dover sticks to Adam, in a very brutal and visceral kind of way. Adam seems to be aware of who Dover is and tends to instigate him into believing even more that he has done something horrible to Dover's daughter. He believes that, despite Adam's lack of intelligence, he still knows something vital that could lead him to his daughter. This ends up leading Dover down a road where he essentially becomes a vigilante and acting against Loki indirectly. Dover's wife, Grace (Maria Bello), descends into a deep depression having lost her daughter and at a time begins to blame Keller as it was his job to his family safe. At times, the clues come together very easily for the viewer while the characters are so far behind us that it can actually be frustrating, but surprisingly it does not take away the tension and the movie does not lose any traction.
Flat out this is my favorite movie of the year and thus far I would say it should win best picture. It is the most intense film I have seen in a long time, and a lot has to be said for the fact that when I walked out of the theater my stomach felt like it was in knots. Not to mention, I was so engrossed in the film the entire time I failed to realize that the people sitting next to me was a family who decided to bring their babies that cried through a good portion of the film. The film is that good. It does such a tremendous job of setting up this surreal tone and believable characters that brings you in and latch onto every single scene and every bit of dialogue that is just terrific. As a whole, it is a very quiet film as well, which tends to make it that much more intense. Many films nowadays have a tendency to go for a bigger and more explosive kind of thriller whereas this stayed grounded in reality making it all the more terrifying. All the characters feel real and you feel for each and every one of them.
Hugh Jackman plays Keller Dover, a man who is a bit of a survivalist. This also makes him a character that teeters on the side of borderline insane. Albeit, he is very stern and even more protective of his family. Jackman is able to portray all of this perfectly. Seeing him in the more intense scenes of the film is both equally terrifying but also a little heartbreaking. His female counterpart, Maria Bello, does a serviceable job in the role of his wife Grace. She has less to play on granted as she mostly is crying throughout the film but when she speaks it is almost always a tearjerker of a scene. Terrance Howard as Franklin also does a terrific job, and usually I am not a fan of his but he was actually arguably the most relate-able character of the bunch. He was fragile which was a nice contrast to the leads in Dover and Loki.
The real star of the movie is clearly Jake Gyllenhaal as Detective Loki. It is a complete performance that he delivers in this role as I rarely recognized him as himself and fully bought into his character. He had a eye twitch that showed he had a troubled past, which they touch on in the film but it did wonders for showing how despite the fact that this guy was a gifted detective he still was a bit troubled himself too. He did a tremendous job of still having his patented charisma but also being a hard nosed cop that you do not want to get on the bad side of. The video below this paragraph should just that. The other surprise of the film was that of Paul Dano's performance. Usually, I can't stand him. Every movie I have seen him in he is usually the friend of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, but in this he was a truly damaged and creepy young man. As a whole, this really is a fantastic film. It is a long film just over two and a half hours but due to the performances and engaging story you will almost never be finding yourself checking the time.