Review: Prisoners

Posted by Matthew on September 30, 2013
Movies, Reviews

Prisoners

Ed. Note: I know this is really late, but I’m on holiday!

You’ve already seen the trailer for Prisoners so you already know the basic set up. Hugh Jackman and Maria Bello are best friends with Terrance Howard and Viola Davis On thanksgiving they share the evening together and the couples youngest children go outside to find a lost toy and never return. Paul Dano plays a simpleton named Alex who is the best suspect and is arrested by Jake Gyllenhaal but it quickly turns out that Alex doesn’t have the faculties to have committed such a crime and is released. Angry, desperate and searching for answers, Hugh Jackman kidnaps Paul Dano and proceeds to torture him for answers.

Turns out though that there is more going on. I’m going to talk in more detail after the jump and while I’m not going to directly spoil anything this is a mystery story so talking about it will give you clues. If you want to skip the review and know what I think? Yes, go see it. It’s good. It’s not perfect but it’s well thought out and incredibly well acted and beautifully shot. Details after the jump.

The problem with mysteries is that if you really pay attention it’s not hard to figure out the actual players involved. Prisoners is no different, from pretty much the get go you should be able to tell who is involved. Fortunately everyone involved seems to understand that the journey is more important than the destination in a story like this and what’s actually compelling is how the characters react to the situation.

Of the four parents, Maria Bello is the one who shuts down, Terrance Howard and Viola Davis are the unsure if they can live with what Hugh Jackman is doing but remain complicit anyway ones, and Hugh Jackman is the one who goes over the edge.

The beauty of the story, to me at least, is how much Hugh Jackman’s character isn’t the hero here. In most other movies he would be a hero as the incompetent police struggle to do anything but in this case he’s not. Dano’s Alex proves nearly immune to torture and Jackman ends up basically just damning his own soul.

That’s a somewhat surprising outcome given the image of American heroism and how much we tie into fathers as heroes, because effectively this movie shows that all this kind of action would do is make things worse. That the character we assume is a hero can only make things worse. That’s brutal when you think about it, no matter how much you identify with the want to “do whatever it takes” as a parent.

Just for the sake of clarity: Understand that Hugh Jackman starts out in this film in the most sympathetic position and ends up as effectively completely unsympathetic. In a world where we cheered for Liam Neeson in Taken, that may leave you fairly shocked.

Jake Gyllenhaal is the cop investigating the crime and in a similar bit of “maybe we should be a little more real” he’s not a super cop. He’s not hyper competent or laser efficient, he’s just a regular cop with regular frustrations. He makes some connections quickly, lets assumptions get in his way, and when it comes to making important connections many of them come slowly or by accident.

Again, in a world where we expect movie cops to be the black and white good guys, Gyllenhaal’s Detective Loki is just another normal guy living in shades of grey.

The story itself plays out like you might expect. As with mysteries there are a great many things you are going to figure out before the characters do. That’s not important, like I said it’s the journey that’s important and both Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal bring their A games to their respective tortured characters.

At the end of the day the reason to see this movie is that it will get you discussing things with your friends. I can’t tell you why without getting too directly into spoilers but like I said the film lives in shades of grey and we’re used to black and white. So see it and talk about it.

Oh, and yes, I can already tell you which scene will be the clip they use when Hugh Jackman is nominated for an Oscar.

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