Twitter Plot Summary: When his daughter goes missing, rugged man’s man Keller Dover will do anything to get her back.
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Key Cast: Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Terence Howard, Maria Bello, Melissa Leo, Paul Dano, Viola Davis, David Dastmalchian.
Five Point Summary:
1. Yes! It’s an extender!
2. What kind of a person buttons his shirt all the way to the top yet doesn’t wear a tie?
3. Snakes! Why’d it have to be snakes?!
4. WHERE IS MY DAUGHTER?!?! If only someone had said that…
5. The highway looks amazing. Bravo Roger Deakins.
The story, on the whole, is one that we’ve seen before. Kids go missing, family are distraught, police attempt to solve the mystery and track down the kidnapper. Meanwhile one of the parents decides to take matters into their own hands and goes after the person they think is responsible for the kidnapping. Then the plot will inevitably take some twists and turns until the truth is revealed. So yes, there’s nothing particularly original there, but Prisoners remains an engaging drama/thriller in spite of this.
The key theme is one of confession, of religious devotion contrasted with having to inflict pain on others, with your moral duties as a good person. We keep dipping back into this theme as Detective Loki continues his investigation into a kidnapping plot that has links to a similar case in that town from 20-30 years previously. There’s another theme at play, that of American attitudes in this post 9/11 world we live in, where torture of potential terrorists is standard practice (allegedly, cough cough), although these days folks will take any excuse to go Jack Bauer on somebody.
Whilst not explicitly discussed in the film itself, Gyllenhaal’s Detective Loki clearly has a lot of issues, evident from his dress sense, his hairstyle (of all things) and his numerous tattoos. Gyllenhaal’s performance is the highlight of the film, played as if there’s this deep-seated anger just bubbling under the surface and liable to erupt at the slightest provocation. His eyes constantly twitch and he’s never failed to solve a case. As time moves on and they’re still no closer to locating the missing girls, he slowly but surely starts to unravel.
Of the remaining cast Jackman gets the most to do in his role as Keller Dover, a God-fearing man who “prays for the best, prepares for the worst.” He’s got a fully stocked basement filled with food, water and survival gear should there be an emergency – hurricanes, terrorist attacks, zombies and so on. He’s a far cry from his role as Logan/Wolverine in the X-Men franchise, or even Jean Valjean in Les Miserables earlier this year. The remaining cast are sadly underserved, Maria Bello in particular spends most of her time sleeping. Neighbours Terence Howard and Viola Davis get a touch more to do, but are otherwise limited to looking upset and turning up to candlelight vigils. This film is essentially a two-hander between Gyllenhaal and Jackman, everybody else is surplus to any need for deeper characterisation.
Never let anybody say that cinematographer’s aren’t essential to a movie. Roger Deakins’ work in Prisoners is nothing short of exceptional. Muted colour palettes are given a cinematic depth not seen in many other films. This is the same guy who made the likes of Skyfall, True Grit and No Country For Old Men look as spectacular as they do. Even if the story had been terrible, Prisoners would have at least looked amazing. More impressive is that this is director Denis Villeneuve’s first bug budget film in the American system, which is mind-blowing and equally as impressive. Some of his choices for camera positioning, at times creating a voyeur effect, are superb. If he can maintain this level of quality with his next few films then he’s going to be one to look out for in the coming years. Tellingly, his next project, Enemy, also features Jake Gyllenhaal, so I have high hopes for it.
It’s a very long film though, it has to be said. Whilst it remains engaging from start to finish, you reach a point at around the 90 minute mark where drama fatigue starts to set in. It’s unrelenting in its bleak tone, understandably, but I think a running time of 2.5 hours is a bit much. However, with that said there’s so much going on in terms of the story that to trim it down would lose a lot of the impact, and subsequently reduce the drama. In the grand scheme of things, I think the 2.5 hour running time is justified, but only just.
Favourite scene: Loki investigating the local priest’s house.
Quote: “Pray for the best, but prepare for the worst.”
Silly Moment: Any time it gets close to somebody saying “WHERE IS MY DAUGHTER?!” as it’s a bit too close to Liam Neeson.