Review: Prisoners (Villeneuve, 2013)

Amongst the seemingly endless darkness within Prisoners, there also emerges a strong passion to convey the worst possible moral dilemma to find one’s self in. The first English language film from Canadian director Denis Villeneuve, Prisoners hands to us what a strong list of credits can do when given something new and original when they don’t have to rely on creative consultants of existing franchises.

The film depicts the kidnapping of two girls, with a suspect being detained almost immediately but is released due to lack of evidence. With detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) failing to find any strong leads, the fathers of the girls (Hugh Jackman, Terrance Howard) take the moral high ground and attempt to force the location of the girls out of the suspect themselves.

Upon viewing, it’s clear the film has a main purpose to create a moral dilemma to the audience and let them evaluate it for themselves. On one hand there’s the layer of sheer brutality of the actions, then comes the layer of sympathy for the suspect, and then the big thick layer of sentiment. It does boil down to the sentiment that drives the film, it is the sentiment that engrosses you so well, and makes you admire the characters so thoroughly. Aaron Guzikowski’s original screenplay does contain minor plot holes and a minor inconsistency in the final act, but for the bulk of the 153 minute running time, he is remarkably efficient at shaping Prisoners’ distinguished characters and aesthetic.

Lead man Hugh Jackman takes a break from high octane singing and bone claws, and takes a whole new approach to a severely troubled and anguished father. Again you may some of his actions and perspective throughout the film, but at the strength and commitment behind his screen presence, it is hard not to develop sympathy or respect for the character. We also have a strong background presence from Terrance Howard, a man torn by determination to be reunited with loved ones and the limits to what is morally right to do so. Paul Dano who plays the suspect Alex Jones, is impressive as a mentally scarred and clearly psychologically ill individual, who doesn’t seem to know what to do throughout the course of events.

Perhaps the most interesting character is that of Detective Loki, who Gyllenhaal brings a complex and layered view of a pressured cop. He must remain as emotionally detached as humanly possible, and sophisticated and professional as his occupation depicts in front of distressed individuals, but as time wears on and desperation rises, we almost see a complete breakdown with outbursts of powerful, complex emotion.

As stated before, the film is a shade over 2.5 hours long and does contain some obvious plot holes towards the final act, but whilst viewing, you will find it hard to notice or even care much about them. Prisoners has an emotional complexity about it, and while it’s clearly quite clever, it will fill you with such a sense of trepidation and high nerve levels, finishing with a brilliant yet unbelievable ending. With high box office earnings on its opening week in the US and the UK, it is also clear that audiences are taking strongly to these new and original ideas in mainstream films.



Ellis Whitehouse