Tuesday, September 24

REVIEW: Prisoners

Directed by Denis Villenueve
2013 Drama
2 hours 26 minutes
From Warner Bros

Hugh Jackman
Jake Gyllenhaal
Viola Davis
Maria Bello
Terrence Howard
Melissa Leo
Paul Dano
Wayne Duvall

Of course the talent behind this movie wanted me to feel unsafe there in my seat for almost two and a half hours and it worked.  Yeah, it worked well.  That is exactly what I felt along with uneasy and I don't think I am being overly dramatic to also include a little creeped out.  There was an ominous tone that permeated the whole affair. 

This film belongs entirely to the two leading men.  Jackman is a husband and father who has added machismo to his promise of safety for his family.  We aren't 10 minutes into the film before we are thrust along with two families, who are neighbors and friends, into the horror of having a young child kidnapped.  Each family has a young daughter stolen while they play in their own neighborhood.  Jackman's character therefore not only has a child kidnapped but he has not provided that safety net that he has promised.

A suspect is nabbed rather quickly and when the police don't handle the arrest as Jackman would like, he does what a lot of people might like to do but few would... he takes matters into his own hands.  He enlists the other distraught father to help him though he is reluctant.  The extent to which Jackman's character inflicts pain on the suspect is sometimes hard to watch and even those who side with him may question whether he goes too far.

We don't learn much about Gyllenhaal's cop character in terms of a back story and that may, in fact, be part of why I was so drawn to this character.  He was a mystery indeed.  He was as slow and deliberate as Jackman's character was hasty and reckless.  Gyllenhaal invested the character with tics and mannerisms and all sorts of business that breathed some life into this everyman just out to do his job to the best of his ability.  He won't remind you of every other cop role you've ever seen.  I was, in fact, occasionally reminded of some cops from the film noirs of the 1940s... laconic, smarter than he looks, determined, methodical, a loner.

Unless there are so many top acting roles to come later this year that we forget this late September entry, I think both Jackman and Gyllenhaal could get Academy nods.  Each was that good.  Jackman was Day-Lewised out of a best actor Oscar last year for Les Misèrables so it would not be out of the ordinary for those dear, sweet-natured Oscar voters to let him have another showing this year.  And Gyllenhaal, long a favorite of mine, just gets better and better as an actor as is in evidence here.

I am not sure why two such wonderfully accomplished actresses as Davis and Bello took these wife roles.  Were their parts sliced and diced until little was left?  Neither is given much to do and I was disappointed.  As with most films in this genre, there is the stock plot confusions and extraneous scenes.  It is a bit too long.

The families portrayed are not wealthy and there are no demands made for ransom.  So it is apparent that these children are stolen for reasons other than that, not unlike stories we hear on the evening news.  I thought the actor portraying the perpetrator was chilling.

Prisoners is neither your typical kidnapping plot nor a standard revenge plot.  It is far more intricate than that.  The final third may have succumbed to well-worn plot devices that I might have passed on but they in no way diminished all that came beforehand.

The film played out like a split screen of two determined men out to find a missing girl with each man determined to do it his way, each believing that way is the right way and all the while thinking the other is anything and everything from a loose cannon to a poor example of what he is (cop, father, good citizen, etc.).

If one sees this movie and doesn't like it, I would be surprised to hear someone say it wasn't good.  It may be that it was too good in some respects.  It would be more likely an issue of being too hard to watch at times.  I think, too, how it's all brought together, it asks an audience to sit up and pay attention to what's being played out.  And once you do-- if you do-- it bumps into you a bit, knocks you off balance, and not every moviegoer likes that.

I sure do.

Coming in November

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