Good lord. It’s been weeks since I went to see a movie. I think I was starting to have withdrawals. I’ve been so focused on Halloween movies and TV premieres that I’m afraid I’ve been neglecting my duty as a theater-goer. But now I make my triumphant return to film reviews with Prisoners—a great one to return with, I think. Also my first truly dramatic film, if I’m not mistaken. Here’s hoping I can do it justice. Ok. Shaking off the rust. Film review. Here we go.
I was intrigued by Prisoners from the get-go, assuming I would definitely catch the film at some point, but perhaps waiting for it to make its way to the cheap theater or to come out on DVD. Then, all of the fantastic reviews started surfacing. The positive buzz seemed to suggest that this was one of the best dramas of the year. Naturally, my curiosity spiked. So I caught a matinee showing, and I can now confirm it: this is a superb, gripping film. The running time may be a little daunting (it’s about two-and-a-half hours), but don’t let that scare you away. With excellent performances, a grimly intriguing story, and a perfect ending, Prisoners is worth every minute of your time.
Synopsis: “When Keller Dover’s daughter and her friend go missing, he takes matters into his own hands as the police pursue multiple leads and the pressure mounts. But just how far will this desperate father go to protect his family?” –Borrowed from my favorite movie site, IMDb.
The Good: SO MUCH. It’s rare that I get this revved up about a drama, but Prisoners is truly that great. First of all, the story is phenomenal—dark and somber without weighing the audience down too much. Awful things happen, but most of it is suggested rather than shown, which I think makes the things we get to see much more powerful. The tension is high from the moment the little girls disappear, and there are so many twists and turns in the plot that we rarely get a break from that edge-of-your-seat feeling. There are even a few shocking touches of weird in the film that make us stare and squirm at the same time. And this grim, thrilling story is brought to stark life by the characters within it—particularly in regards to Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) and Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal). As grief-stricken Keller, Jackman flexes his dramatic muscles, proving once again that he’s much more than a wise-cracking, adamantium-clawed mutant (for my non-geeks: that was an X-Men reference). We’re rooting for Keller the whole way through, of course, but we’re also slightly repulsed by the lengths he’s willing to go. Then there’s Gyllenhaal’s solemn, almost overly dedicated Detective Loki. I’ve seen Gyllenhaal in dramatic roles before, of course, but this was definitely one of his best performances. His dedication is admirable, his keen mind undeniable, and his people skills often lackluster. He makes for a fascinating character. All of these factors make Prisoners an engrossing drama/thriller/mystery with a bit of an ethical exploration attached. It’s pretty brilliant stuff. Favorite scene: I’d have to say the very last minute of the film. It sort of leaves you hanging, but in an oddly satisfying way.
The Bad: Honestly, there’s very little I have to say in regards to the negatives. Some people might point out the film’s length, but I was so absorbed by the story that I didn’t mind it. I will say, though, that there are lots of squirmy moments throughout. Violence is rarely shown, but torture does come into play at a few points. Plus, there is, of course, the horrifying elephant in the room: what exactly has happened to the children? It’s grisly enough imagining what happens to abducted adults, but the idea of abducted children raises the stakes to a higher level. If these story elements make you nervous, you might want to sit this one out. However, if you’re a regular viewer of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit or anything comparable, you’ve probably got nothing to worry about. Other than that, I will admit that I have a few qualms with the plot—pretty much exclusively with some of the people involved in abducting the girls. Not many details are given as to why one character in particular feels the need to abduct the girls, and I would really like to delve more into that. Also, there’s another character who clearly has something to do with the abduction, but I have no how or why this person got involved. But these are minor complaints that certainly don’t lessen power of the film. Least favorite scene: That character I mentioned above—the one whose need to abduct children remains a mystery? This person monologues toward the end of the film, and it’s the only point, I believe, that feels kind of forced. It’s not exactly bad, but it could’ve been better.
To Sum It Up: Prisoners is an intense crime drama that I believe could please just about anybody. It’s well-written, well-performed, and very interesting. If you’re someone who goes to the theater purely for fun and fluff, hey, no shame—I’ve seen more than my share of popcorn flicks. But if you see a drama this year, make it Prisoners. I doubt you’ll regret it.
My Grade: A