Prisoners Review


How far would you go to protect your family? Would you sacrifice your morality? Your humanity? These are the types of questions asked in Prisoners, Denis Villeneuve’s haunting crime thriller that leaves you questioning your morals if you were put in a similar extreme situation.


Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) is facing every parent’s worst nightmare. His six-year-old daughter, Anna, is missing, together with her young friend, Joy, and as minutes turn to hours, panic sets in. The best lead is a dilapidated RV that had earlier been parked on their street. Heading the investigation, Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) arrests its driver, Alex Jones (Paul Dano), but a lack of evidence forces his release.

As the police pursue multiple leads and with pressure mounting to find his daughter alive, a desperate Dover decides he has no choice but to take matters into his own hands.


Aaron Guzikowski delivers a brutally honest screenplay since there are no easy answers to be found here. People, like Keller Dover, don’t behave politely under these extremes. People don’t behave as though they care about what anyone else thinks. Whatever the person’s behavior is, they need to do it just to get through their problems. Essentially this is why the film is titled Prisoners, as each character in the film is, in one way or another, a prisoner. They’re a prisoner of circumstances, of their own neuroses, of fear, each individual has to struggle with some form of imprisonment, and each character has to fight their way out.

The script’s brutal honesty and heavy subject matter might unnerve some casual moviegoers. Therefore, it is up to the cast to get the audience invested with the characters on screen. Fortunately, the cast of the film did a phenomenal job in getting us to do just that. Hugh Jackman returns as Wolverine delivers a performance that, in my opinion, is much more ferocious than his performances as Wolverine. Jackman has never looked so angry and hurt, and yet so human and genuine at the same time. We understand Keller’s deteriorating emotional grip as with each day passes the less likely his daughter will be found alive. As Detective Loki, Jake Gyllenhaal steals the film here, as this is his best performance of his career. The amount of detail that Gyllenhaal shows in his performance is quite extraordinary. From Loki’s tendency to blink his eyes in heightened situations to his progressive obsession with the case shows just how far he’s come as an actor. I still remember him as the geeky kid in October Sky and now he’s much more than that.


The rest of the cast could not be any better. Viola Davis, Maria Bello, and Terrence Howard provide an intimate look at their characters’ coping processes in a time of tragic uncertainty. Not to be outdone, both Paul Dano and Melissa Leo are quite good in the film as well. Their ability to disappear into their roles is quite a sight to behold. I couldn’t recognize them at all, especially Melissa Leo. It’s as if they pulled a Patrick Stewart and subtly told the audience, “You thought I’d be like this character didn’t you? Hmmph. Acting.

Ultimately, while Prisoners is not on the same level as David Fincher’s Seven or Zodiac, the atmosphere of terror is just as intense. At 2 1/2 hours though, the film will be an endurance test as the film drags with its many setup shots. Fortunately, the film acts like a literary page-turner. Even though the film drags, the complex, maze-like mystery that’s been laid before the audience will keep them invested until the very last frame.

Grade: A-

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