Prisoners – 2013
Director Denis Villeneuve
Starring Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis, Maria Bello, Terrence Howard, Melissa Leo, Paul Dano, Dylan Minnette
Screenplay Aaron Guzikowski
One could say that I am not a fan of Paul Dano or Melissa Leo. They often play detestable creatures; almost always intentionally. Many of the best parts of their films involve them losing or being hurt in some way. When Dano starts getting beat up early and often in Prisoners, I am in hog heaven. Like Jackman’s Keller Dover, I believe that Dano’s Alex Jones is the most vile type of person, wholly capable of the crime for which he’s been accused. The crime is the abduction of Dover’s daughter Anna, and Joy Birch, the daughter of Franklin and Nancy (Howard and Davis). He’s been caught in the vehicle that spotted in the area that they were last seen, and there is plenty of circumstantial evidence that hits the right eyes and ears at the right moments.
Soon enough, Jones is released and soon after he is kidnapped by Dover, who begins to torture the strangely mute adult child. After Keller shows Franklin what he’s done, he coerces his complicity. Soon after, the torture begins. The feeling is sadly, angrily delicious. Sure, the children’s whereabouts are not revealed, but it is quite obvious to anyone that he knows something of where they are.
Along this time, we meet Jones’ Aunt Holly. She seems like any aunt of an idiot adult child. She puts up with his eccentricities and explains what he’s like to live with to Detective Loki (Gyllenhaal). Loki has a flawless record recovering children, which is a strange thing when you consider the odds. His pursuit is hindered by his idiot boss Captain O’Malley (Duvall), but he manages to comb pretty thoroughly through some other cases along the way, gleaning seemingly inconsequential information.
About this time another suspect (Dastmalcian) comes to the fore. Where this leads will be left for the viewer.
The performances of leads Jackman and Gyllenhaal are tense and finely conceived. Gyllenhaal has the same type of freshness and desperate vibe shown in Fincher’s classic Zodiac. Jackman’s flawed honorable intent pieces together nicely with the moral of the story. We feel his pain acutely, especially with his wife (Bello) moving right into a bedridden panic mode. As a father, it is easy to identify with how his need to be a protector would transfer into malevolence after the chance for that has passed.
Davis and Howard are given the unique chance to show a different side of the victimized / victimizer angle. Their reactions to finding out what Dover is doing is what many of us would do.
This is Jackman and Gyllenhaal’s movie, though, and they attack every minute of screen time they have as if there are really two little girls on the line. The performances push the story through some gaps in reasoning and common sense. It isn’t until the end that the lack of logic finally eats through an otherwise talented script. While not having seen any of Villenueve’s directorial work before, this sharp and almost clinical effort ensures that I will, starting with Enemy. If the work does not work in the most sensible manner, it does have grist as a thrilling morality tale.
(**** out of *****)