Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 2 hours 23 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Disturbing Violent Content including Torture, and Language throughout
Directed by: Denis Villeneuve
Written by: Aaron Guzikowski
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis, Maria Bello, Terrence Howard, Melissa Leo & Paul Dano
Imagine that you’re living a parent’s worst nightmare. Your children just vanished, less than a block away from your home. Someone took your kids and they might still be out there…alive…somewhere. How far would you go to get your children back? Would you become the equivalent of the very monster that abducted your offspring? With every second that passes, the likelihood of your child surviving this ordeal shrinks and those questions become very hard to answer. These are the kind of tough positions that the unrelenting thriller PRISONERS puts you in. If there was ever a film to be described as putting its viewer through the wringer, this is it.
It’s Thanksgiving and the Dovers are visiting their close friends, the Jones family. At one point, the younger daughters (one from the Dover family and one from the Joneses) go to retrieve a whistle from the Dover’s household. Hours later, it becomes apparent that the girls are missing. Desperately, both families look down their street and through their homes for the children, only to wind up empty-handed. A foreboding RV was seen on the street right around the time that the girls were abducted and the investigation begins.
Right off the bat, Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman in a riveting performance) and Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal delivering an amazing performance as well) are at odds with each other. The RV is found with a mentally incapable 20-something behind the wheel. The RV doesn’t have a shred of evidence and the suspect is released. All of this is happening while Loki investigates all the sex offenders nearby for a possible clue. What he uncovers is a disturbing discovery and a shrinking list of suspects. Meanwhile, Keller takes justice into his own hands and abducts the potential suspect in order to try to make him talk. Things get horribly disturbing and dark from then on. Nothing is quite as it appears to be and little details that happen in the early on come back in huge ways by the time the story is wrapping up.
To say that PRISONERS is disturbing would be a vast understatement. This is far from a graphic or sadistic movie, but it’s devastating on so many levels. Even with a nearly three-hour running time, the movie never gives you have any room to breathe! I was uncomfortable from the moment the girls disappeared to the absolutely unpredictable finale. So many things are laid out for the viewer and even when a major twist is revealed, it isn’t explicitly spelled out. This is a smart movie that constantly plays off the audience’s expectations. After all, intensity of what might occur can be more chilling than what actually does happen at the end of some scenes.
Then there’s the thick atmosphere of the film. The weather itself factors largely into this as there isn’t a single ray of sunlight in the entire movie. It’s always cloudy, rainy, snowy, or a combination of the three. Either way, it makes for an unnerving setting, even when a conversation between two characters in a car is playing out. That’s another thing about PRISONERS that’s notable too. When something as simple as a dialogue exchange is nail bitingly chilling, it says something for the quality of the movie. Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal both deserve some kind of award for their performances. The twists that PRISONERS takes in the final hour left me gasping more than once or staring wide-eyed at the screen in disbelief. Let’s just say there’s no real way of predicting how everything will play out.
PRISONERS is the best thriller I’ve seen since David Fincher’s GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO. It’s an intense, chilling, and frequently disturbing crime-drama that feels like a tightening a noose around the viewer’s neck. This is what a thriller should be. It’s quietly thrilling and leaves you thinking about it long after. A haunting experience if there ever was one and it might wind up being the best film of 2013!