Film review: Prisoners


(MA15+) ****

Director: Denis Villeneuve.

Cast; Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis, Maria Bello, Terrence Howard, Melissa Leo, Paul Dano.

WHEN we think of horror movies, we tend to think of haunted houses, exorcisms, and knife-wielding psychos in the night.

But what really horrifies us in our everyday lives is the possibility are loved ones could be taken away from us and being powerless to do anything about it.

It's fitting then that Denis Villeneuve's first English-language feature feels like a horror film. As it tells its tale of two missing girls abducted in broad suburban daylight, the sense of dread and foreboding, the intense uncomfortableness of what follows, and the perpetual sleet and mist that hangs in the air are straight out of a scary movie.

The two missing girls belong to Keller and Grace Dover (Jackman and Bello) and Franklin and Nancy Birch (Howard and Davis), whose lives are torn apart one foggy Thanksgiving when their young daughters Anna and Joy are abducted.

Detective Loki (Gyllenhaal) is on the case, but progress is slow and frustrating for the two families, particularly Keller, who is angered when lead suspect Alex Jones (Dano) is released from custody.

Convinced the mentally challenged Alex knows the location of the kids, Keller kidnaps and imprisons him, starting down a dark road that will test Keller's Christian values and blur the lines between good and evil.

The title is an apt one - not only are people imprisoned literally but everyone is held captive and controlled beyond their will by something, whether it be their grief, anger, faith, mental capacity, past or even their job, with the latter being the case of Gyllenhaal's detective.

Loki is an intriguing character, mainly because we get so little information about him compared to everyone else in the movie. His tattoos and a nervous blink hint at a past we're never told about, and aside from his introduction where he dines alone, we never see him outside of work.

He may be seen as a token cop or a frustratingly underwritten character by some, but he is a refreshingly cliché-free lawman so driven and determined that he lives entirely for his job.

Far more colourful is Jackman's Keller - a survivalist, a Christian, and a committed father who provides the film's grey-area morality. It's a stunning performance, filled with coiled anger and relentless desperation, and certainly worthy of an Oscar nomination.

Jackman and Gyllenhaal do the heavy lifting but it's a top-notch cast all round, boasting one Oscar winner, four Oscar nominees and a Golden Globe nominee. Davis' limited screentime is memorable, Bello is convincing, while Dano is excellent in a thankless role.

Veteran cinematographer Roger Deakins perfectly captures the bleakness of the situation and the mist-shrouded suburbs, while Johan Johannsson's score (aided by a dash of Radiohead) is suitably ominous.

Prisoners is haunting and will stick with you. It messes with your sympathies and your moral compass. It keeps you guessing and wondering how it can possibly come together, and even demands a second viewing if you can handle its at-times confronting nature again. There are puzzles at play here, so pay attention.

The only criticisms might be the ending, Loki's lack of development, and whether the film maintains its two and half hours fully, but those possible gripes aside, this is one of the best films of the year.

Jake Gyllenhaal and Hugh Jackman in the abduction thriller Prisoners.

Jake Gyllenhaal and Hugh Jackman in the abduction thriller Prisoners.


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