Review written by John McGinn
Sacrifice is a common theme in Prisoners from the opening scene in the forest Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) recites a prayer while his son Ralph Dover (Dylan Minnette) kills his first deer to the climax where the kidnapper explains that god is the reason why he or she is doing what they are doing and the reasoning behind all the violence her or she has committed, and it both benefits and hurts Prisoners making it a gripping yet an overly long and flawed mystery thriller.
As with any good mystery thriller there has to be tension to keep the viewer guessing what will happen next, and suspense as to keep the viewer guessing as whom the murderer is, but first we must take a step back. Keller Dover is down on his luck carpenter whom is struggling, but still able to provide for his family. Keller a deeply spiritual man and his family head to his friend Franklin Birch (Terrence Howard) home for Thanksgiving. The two families eat, drink and have fun until their daughters Anna Dover (Erin Gerasimovich) and Joy Birch (Kyla Drew Simmons) head off on their own, and never return to the Birch’s home. With the tension rising as the parents call the police and search the neighborhood for the strange RV Ralph had spotted earlier, and this is where Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) makes his appearance when he gets the call about the RV arresting Alex Jones (Paul Dano).
The tension and suspense really ratchets up in Prisoners from this point on as Loki and the CSI’s find no evidence that Alex took the two girls, and is forced to let Alex go free yet Keller after a confrontation with Alex is sure the man knows where his daughter is and takes matters into his own hand. Director Denis Villeneuve and writer Aaron Guzikowski do a good job keeping up the drama and suspense as they keep hinting that Alex might be the kidnapper yet at the same time throwing in more suspects along the way to keep the viewer guessing until close to the end of the film. Besides the theme of sacrifice another theme Villeneuve and Guzikowski throw in a moral one as well, and try to get the viewer to understand Keller’s decisions he has made like how far would you go to find your daughter, what sacrifices would you make to find your daughter, and for the majority of the film director Villeneuve and writer Guzikowiski succeed in doing so.
While I really enjoyed Prisoners I had some issues with the story, and the characters as well with the biggest issue being the climax of the film. You wanted to see if the parents were worth of god’s love? I know I can’t read the minds of serial killers and kidnappers, but the reasoning just didn’t match the tone of the film, and where the story was headed. I expected a better thought out payoff than the one I got in Prisoners. Along with the reasoning behind the kidnapping leads to another issue I had with the final act of Prisoners in that the kidnapper could have easily gotten away with it if he or she had just answered the door for Loki. They had plenty of time to hide the evidence, and Loki had no reason or a warrant to search the home. That scene just took me out of what was supposed to be a tension filled scene. Finally there is the scene with Grace Dover (Maria Bello) and detective Loki where she explains that everything her husband did was justified and without him doing what he did Loki wouldn’t have found their daughter, which is just crap. I can’t believe the writers trying to justify what Keller did forced the character Grace to say that, and I know she’s Keller’s wife, but Grace can’t honestly believe that even if she won’t voice it out loud. It was simply laughable moment, because what Keller did was all for nothing. Nothing he did helped find his daughter in fact he was hindering the investigation as Loki had to look into the disappearance of Alex taking time away from searching for the missing children. Director Villeneuve and writer Guzikowiski nearly let everything they achieved in Prisoners fall apart in the final act with plot holes, poorly written dialogue, and out of character decisions made by certain characters. The other problem I had with the Prisoners was the length of the film. The film I watched didn’t justify a length of two hours and a half. With some smart editing the film could have been cut down to around two hours and fifteen minutes, and I believe those cuts would have added to the tension and suspense of the film.
While the final act of Prisoners faltered the performances by the actors didn’t. Hugh Jackman gives his best performance since the Prestige if not his career as Keller. The emotion Jackman gives to Keller brings to life the character and the decisions he has made, and the price Keller has paid making theme. Jake Gyllenhaal also gives an outstanding performance as Detective Loki who has chosen the job over having a family. Gyllenhaal really should stay away from the blockbuster films like Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time and the Day After Tomorrow, because Gyllenhall is a far better actor in dramatic roles than action roles as he has proven in Donnie Darko, End of Watch, and Brokeback Mountain. Maria Bello doesn’t have much to do in Prisoners as the distraught Grace Dover, but she gives a believable performance as a mother who has lost her daughter cutting herself off from the outside world. Like Mario Bello, Terrence Howard doesn’t have much to do in his role as Franklin Birch as he is relegated to Keller’s accomplice, but the experienced actor Howard gives his all in the role displaying the conflicting emotions when is morality is tested as he helps Keller in his quest to find their daughters.
If not for the faulty final act, and climax Prisoners would go down as one of the great mystery thrillers like Memento, The Silence of the Lambs, and L.A. Confidential, but even with its flaws Prisoners is a riveting engrossing thriller with a quality moral story that will keep you guessing nearly to the end, outstanding performances by Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, and the rest of the cast that helps to turn Prisoners into enthralling, nerve-racking and thoughtful thriller, and one of the better films of the year.
4 out of 5 Stars