Movie Review: Prisoners

by | Sep 20th, 2013 | 7:29PM | Filed under: Movies, Theatrical Reviews

prisonersDon’t see Prisoners if you really need to sleep that same evening — let’s put it that way. It’s one of the darkest, most twist-filled thrillers to have come along in a while.

Who’s in it? Hugh Jackman (Keller Dover), Jake Gyllenhaal (Detective Loki), Terrence Howard (Franklin Birch), Paul Dano (Alex Jones), Viola Davis (Nancy Birch), Maria Bello (Grace Dover), Melissa Leo (Holly Jones)

What’s it about? After two young girls disappear, both their families and the detective on the case resort to increasingly desperate measures to find them.

What’s good? Hugh Jackman is the best he’s ever been as Keller, an anguished father who refuses to stand by and do nothing while his daughter is still missing. He believes that the mentally challenged Alex has taken his child and her friend or at the very least knows where they are so when the police let Alex go after finding no evidence to convict him, Keller abducts the troubled young man and tortures him for information.

The whole thing sounds pretty horrible, doesn’t it? And it is. There is not one (seriously, not one) moment of comfort or levity in Prisoners. Even during the beginning scenes where the two families are enjoying Thanksgiving together, you just know something bad is coming; with his focus on drab colors and ominous nature shots, cinematographer Roger A. Deakins can take a lot of credit for that. The film’s entire point is to examine how far a parent might go to save his child, and the results aren’t pretty. Yet here I am saying that’s also precisely Prisoners‘ strength: it does not let up. It does not coddle you. It will make you look dead-on at the face of a swollen and bloodied captive and feel no remorse, simply because he might know something.

“Do you have children?” Keller’s wife asks Jake Gyllenhaal’s Detective Loki shortly after the girls go missing. She might as well have been asking the audience directly, because if you do have kids, you’re going to probably have a different take on Keller’s actions than others might. (On a related note, I used to HATE when people would tell me, a grown and exceedingly empathetic woman, that I “couldn’t understand” something because I wasn’t a parent. Until I became one last year. Now I get it. The feelings you experience after you become responsible for someone else’s life are a thousand times more intense, and that’s all there is to it.) Keller does despicable, unforgivable things in this movie. Except that you probably will forgive him and understand why he does what he does if you have kids of your own.

While Jackman is the standout, the rest of the cast is superb as well. Maria Bello plays Keller’s wife, who is overwhelmed by the possibilities of what may have happened to her daughter and therefore will only let herself believe that the girls simply ran off and are hiding out somewhere. She pops pills and stays in bed, hoping to wake up from what must surely be a bad dream. Terrence Howard and Viola Davis play the other set of parents, jackman-prisonerswho each have different ways of coping with Keller’s secret interrogation of Alex. And while Gyllenhaal’s Loki was a little too stereotypical for me (We get it, he’s intense! Now can he just stop blinking so hard?), you believe that he wants to crack the case just as much for these families as he does for his own career.

What could’ve been better? It’s hard to do Extremely Dark and not veer into Overblown territory, and Prisoners’ director Denis Villeneuve (Incendies) does take the grimness a little too far in parts and drags it on for too long. I also had to question how screenwriter Aaron Guzikowski could paint Loki as such a star detective and then also allow him to miss a huge in-your-face clue as the story drew to its climax. (And this is coming from someone who’s usually the last to experience the “aha!” moment in these types of films.) Having said that, I must give Guzikowski his due when it comes to unforeseeable twists. Prisoners had a few that completely threw me.

The bottom line: It’s hard to recommend a movie this dark, even though it was well made and thought-provoking and has better performances than its genre’s seen for a while. I feel like I’d be sentencing you to some nightmares and at least two and a half hours of pure dread. But if you have enjoyed films like Zodiac, Mystic River or even Se7en and can shake off the subject matter fairly easily after the theater lights go up, then Prisoners may be worth the knots in your stomach.

18 Responses to “Movie Review: Prisoners”

  1. Michael
    Posted on September 21, 2013 at 2:30 am

    This is going be good!

  2. Charlene
    Posted on September 21, 2013 at 10:55 am

    In all honesty…I cannot rate a movie that I have yet to see. However, I would like to comment upon the blogger of this post. It is obvious to me that Ms.or Mrs.(?) Olson knows what she is talking about. I can appreciate that fact that she expresses such depth of passion. First you can tell that basically she doesn’t believe and buy into the “violence scene”. Secondly and most importantly she can empathize with the bereaved parent, the one who is doing the torturing to get information in the attempt to locate and rescue the missing girls. As a parent I know that I would go through hell and back to protect any child of mine. If truth be told… I know what it’s like to grow up in an abusive environment. I know first hand about gang initiation, satanic rituals, blood letting, insanity and madness, suicide, and purging. I know about death, dying and then being recycled….What I can not phantom is why many choose not to believe in God or Jesus Christ, his son? Why so many,have lost their HOPE and curse him…Why many choose to Believe that no one could possibly ever love them…just because…they are the children of God? Wether you believe in God or not, please get it through your thick heads…He not only Believes in us…He also loves us as well. GBY 4-ever.

  3. Sherry K
    Posted on September 21, 2013 at 5:07 pm

    I think Hugh Jackman is good in everything he does. And he needs to get away from ” Wolverine” so he isn’t stereotyped to that character. Like Superman. I will watch this show!

    • Currently 4/5 Stars
    James Simmons
    Posted on September 23, 2013 at 7:12 pm

    Hugh Jackson is one of the greatest drama actors of our time.

  4. Lauren I Peterson
    Posted on September 24, 2013 at 9:09 am

    Need to show more of Terrance Howard

  5. Gary Moy
    Posted on September 24, 2013 at 9:47 am

    Thanks for your review. I’m looking forward to seeing this one.

    • Currently 5/5 Stars
    Gilberto Ramirez
    Posted on September 24, 2013 at 1:41 pm

    One of the best thriller movies ever made. I really liked this movie.

  6. Fonseca Welch
    Posted on September 24, 2013 at 6:28 pm

    I can watch anything with Terrence Howard.

    • Currently 4/5 Stars
    Posted on September 28, 2013 at 3:37 pm

    Hugh Jackson is one of the greatest actor.

  7. Stormii
    Posted on September 28, 2013 at 7:11 pm

    It was a good movie

    • Currently 5/5 Stars
    vanessa danielson
    Posted on September 29, 2013 at 9:49 am

    What does Melissa Leo’s character say to Jackman about ‘we steal your children so you will lose your faith etc?

  8. Erika Olson

    Posted on September 29, 2013 at 11:18 am

    Because I think she thinks that people whose kids are taken will start to question God’s role in their lives (“How could He let this happen?!?”), and they will ultimately lose their faith in God. Which would them accomplish something in her and her husband’s “War on God,” if people stopped believing. That’s how I interpreted it!

    Hope that helps,

  9. Jesse Longoria
    Posted on October 1, 2013 at 10:55 am

    It was pretty good but i think it needed more gore.

    • Currently 5/5 Stars
    Posted on October 1, 2013 at 2:18 pm

    Me & my husband saw this movie the weekend it came out we both sat on the edges of our seats with our mouths opened (other then being over stuffed with popcorn). I’m the chatty wife but not durning this flick, we did have it figured out by the last quarter. But wOW!!! A must see…not for the kids…and as parents it pulled at our hearts.

    • Currently 5/5 Stars
    Posted on October 4, 2013 at 12:40 pm

    Great movie

  10. Brian
    Posted on October 5, 2013 at 6:43 pm

    Awesome movie!!!!

  11. Afra Ochoa
    Posted on October 6, 2013 at 10:14 pm

    Berry good movie

  12. ReneeHarman
    Posted on October 10, 2013 at 6:29 pm

    Can’t wait to check this one out.