Well I finally got around to writing my review of Prisoners, it has been a busy couple weeks so my apologies for taking so long. Prisoners is success that I did not see coming. I had seen the trailers heavily over the past few months and thought that it looked like your pretty decent, average thriller and that the trailer was probably giving away too much of the plot. I am happy to report that I was wrong because Prisoners is a damn fine mystery thriller that happens to be a lot darker and more complex then any of the trailers made it seem. The film raises challenging moral questions that it does not necessarily answer by the end, leaving a deep impact on us as the viewers by essentially taking us through the ringer and see just how hard it can bend us before we break. Now to discuss the plot of Prisoners I may get into some minor spoiler territory though I wouldn’t dream of ruining some of the bigger surprises that Prisoners has to offer but still be warned.
Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) and his wife Grace (Maria Bello) take their kids to visit a neighboring family, consisting of Franklin and Nancy Birch (Terrance Howard and Viola Davis) and their two children, for Thanksgiving. After dinner the two young daughters go out to play and vanish into thin air. The prime suspect is a mentally handicapped young man (Paul Dano) owning a beat up old trailer which they believe he used to abduct them but there is no evidence to back this up. The families of the two girls begin to fall apart and become more desperate while Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) stumbles upon a far more elaborate crime that could be related to the disappearance of the two girls. Eventually Keller Dover breaks down and kidnaps the original suspect, intending to brutally torture him until confesses. But that doesn’t even make up half of the story as Detective Loki begins to unravel an elaborate mystery surrounding the disappearances of many other children and the horrifyingly evil culprit behind it, all while Keller’s torture methods become more disturbing with each passing scene.
When it comes to Hollywood detective movies, which Prisoners undoubtedly is, I think I have gotten a bit to good at solving the mystery long before the characters do. It’s not so much that Prisoners is predictable but that I’m just really good at paying attention. If you want to quickly solve the mystery of any detective movie, Prisoners included, you simply need to look for any information, characters, biographical details or objects that don’t really seem to have any important purpose in the story. Chances are they will resurface later as crucial plot points. By doing this I had the culprit in Prisoners pegged by the end of the first act. But the movie seems to recognize this, making a point of the film being less about the actually mystery, and more about the emotionally devastating journey that every character is forced to go through. There really isn’t a hero here, these are realistic people reacting in a realistic way to an unspeakable crime.
The entire cast is giving some of their best work yet but it’s Hugh Jackman who show steals every scene he is in with a career best performance. The role requires him to go to some really dark places and he pulls it off flawlessly with the perfect mix of brooding and complex. The fact that it still remains believable when Keller goes from sympathetic father figure to a monstrous brute really does say a lot for the excellence of both the script and Jackman’s performance. If this doesn’t at the very least get him nominated for an Oscar then I honestly can’t imagine what will. Maria Bello, Terrance Howard and Viola Davis all do fine work as the other three parents, effectively portraying the moral depths to which each of their characters sink. Jake Gyllenhaal also shows his skills playing just an average cop desperately trying to find the culprit as the pieces of the puzzle slowly begin to fall in place.
Prisoners isn’t perfect but its problems are noticeably few. While the extra long running time is helpful for revealing every last detail by the end, a slightly too over complicated second act centered entirely around a huge red herring takes a bit too much time and is sure to try the patience of many people. This results in the movie being about twenty minutes too long. Also at times the editing isn’t quite as tight and clean as a mystery thriller of this caliber requires but that is a relatively minor gripe. These small issues don’t detract from the overall experience in any way that actually matters.
Overall Prisoners is a triumph. The direction and script are both so good that they manage to make the use of realistic human drama and ticking time bomb tension work in ways that I didn’t think were possible. In even slightly weaker hands, this could have been a complete failure but as it stands now, with a pitch perfect cast, Prisoners is up there with fantastic mystery films like Se7en and Zodiac. It’s one of the most non-stop intense movies I’ve ever seen and it’s best films of the year so you definitely check it out.