This slow-burn thriller with an astonishingly top-notch cast excels in almost every way… until it craps out in its final act.
Our Rating

Genre(s): Thriller, Crime, Drama

Director: Denis Villeneuve

Actors: Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis, Paul Dano, Melissa Leo, Terrence Howard, Maria Bello

Year: 2013

MPAA Rating: PG

Country: USA

Prisoners is a slow-burn thriller–think the pacing of Zodiac, also starring Jake Gyllenhaal–which takes us into the lives of two families affected by a horrific crime: the kidnapping of their young daughters. As neighbors, the Kellers and Birches gather for a low-key Thanksgiving dinner. Their two youngest children ask to run to the other house to search for something, and distracted, the adults give them permission. But, awhile later, when it is noticed that the kids didn’t come back, panic ensues.

The film focuses on the desperation of father Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman). When an investigator, Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal), is brought in, Keller’s panic is bordering upon hysteria. For desperate parents to put their trust into police that don’t seem to be doing enough, it is not too far fetched for them to take matters in their own hands. This occurs when the cops release the number one suspect, a dim-minded man-child named Alex Jones (Paul Dano), who was seen driving in a broken-down camper in the neighborhood. Keller’s incredulity that the almost-mute Alex is sitting at home while the girls are missing in the cold November weather is too much for him to take. Without going into detail, Keller takes the role of (violent) interrogator into his own hands.

At 2 1/2 hours, Prisoners is a very long, quite slow film. But there is an impressive patience to the film. The cast is overall stellar, from Maria Bello’s emotionally crippled mother, to Terrence Howard’s desperate father who is shocked at his best friend’s behavior. Jackman is the best thing about this film, making you sympathizing with his desperation, while questioning his extreme motives to find his daughter. Maybe the only weak link is Gyllenhaal–but it is not the actor’s fault. Detective Loki, with his hand and neck tattoos covered by a buttoned-to-the-neck, ill-fitting dress shirt, is an enigma. We are not shown a life outside of his job (except that he is eating at a Chinese diner on Thanksgiving). But why is he so blinky? Why does he sometimes inappropriately smirk or roll his eyes?

Unfortunately, for all of its impressive build-up, Prisoners cops out at the end. When we get to the final revelation, after many many twists and turns, I was like, “Really? That’s it?” The resolution seems to come out of any typical Hollywood thriller, which was disappointing. But I still recommend the film, as it is an otherwise effective, engrossing drama.


The Blu-ray edition of Prisoners comes with DVD and digital copies of the movie, as well as the featurettes “Prisoners – Every Moment Counts” (Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal discuss the relationship between Keller and Loki) and “Prisoners – Powerful Performances” (about the film’s cast).


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