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2013 | 153 min | R | 1.85:1



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1 user review

Movie appeal




Theatrical release date

 20 September, 2013
 27 September, 2013

Country of origin

 United States

Box office




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Screenshots from Prisoners Blu-ray

Prisoners Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, September 19, 2013

“Prisoners” is a kidnapping drama that aspires to be a morally complex tale of vigilante justice. It’s brutal, depressing, and supplied with a leisurely run time, and it’s almost a completely compelling movie. Director Denis Villeneuve gets the material 75% of the way there before the production completely falls apart, taking something intimate and ugly and turning it into a conventional slip ‘n slide of convenient resolutions. “Prisoners” deserves credit for its unflinching approach to the urgency at hand, asking viewers to sit through scenes of piercing torment and tearful desperation. However, the picture doesn’t stick its landing, a crucial misstep when working with such manipulative scripting.

Celebrating a holiday together, Keller (Hugh Jackman) and wife Grace (Maria Bello) are enjoying the company of Nancy (Viola Davis) and Franklin (Terrence Howard), paying only vague attention to their two young daughters. When the girls go missing during a simple trip outdoors without supervision, Keller goes berserk looking for them, quickly butting up against the investigative efforts of Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal), a seasoned cop aware of the angles when it comes to kidnapping cases. Finding a suspect in Alex (Paul Dano), a mentally challenged man, Loki hopes to crack the oddly behaved fellow with his interrogation skills. Without any evidence to hold him, Alex is set free, enraging Keller, who kidnaps the suspect, securing him inside an abandoned building, commencing his own punishment for crimes the man may not have committed. With Keller beating silence out of Alex and Loki unable to find clues in the case, all hope seems lost, with days turning into a week without the girls, greatly reducing the likelihood of a rescue.

“Prisoners” preys on every parent’s fear of kidnapping, with a simple lapse in monitoring giving way to absolute torment. It’s a dependable hook to establish anxiety, watching the cops track down Alex, who doesn’t seem particularly aware of what’s happening to him, while Keller comforts himself with rage, refusing to give up the fight to find his little girl. Commencing with a suffocating sense of dread, “Prisoners” hits precise notes of terror and frustration that brings the conflict into view, studying Keller and Loki’s gradual dismay as the law prepares to return Alex to society, unable to find a fiber of evidence that could keep him behind bars.

The screenplay by Aaron Guzikowski arranges a simple switcheroo in the area of lasting punishment, positioning Keller as a man who refuses to reflect on the complexity of the case, turning helplessness into revenge. Establishing the father as a survivalist, prepared for any natural disaster, the writing challenges that readiness, unleashing the furious man on Alex, who’s either hiding the whereabouts of the girls or genuinely doesn’t have a clue -- a question of guilt the movie carries throughout the picture. Keller tortures Alex for answers, beating him senseless before building a holding cell to implement water torture. In a case of seemingly clear-cut evil, Keller blurs the line, bringing in a hesitant Franklin to justify his actions. Keller prays to God, but shows no hesitation when it comes to Alex’s suffering, certain the creep is guilty. The writing isn’t particularly sophisticated, but it’s effective, asking the audience to identify the line between acceptable vigilantism and vicious catharsis.

If only the rest of “Prisoners” remained that determined or manageable. Instead, the production takes a considerable amount of screen time (150 minutes) to dwell on the details, opening the dramatic possibilities of the struggle between Keller and Loki as the limitations of the law color their tempestuous relationship. The screenplay doesn’t pay much attention to Franklin and Nancy, and Grace is cast aside as a pill-popping wreck unable to leave her bed, making the journey into darkness awfully neat for the main characters. Still, Villeneuve manages to make some of the details pop, including Loki’s irritation with his captain, who’s too cheap and too overwhelmed with other concerns to give the case the attention it requires, keeping the supercop routine to a bare minimum.

There are several twists to “Prisoners” that can’t be discussed in full, but it’s safe to report that the third act takes the story from bitter, hand-wringing realism to something out of a basic cable procedural, dropping grittiness to monkey with contrivance, desperate to give people a customary conclusion that’s neatly tied up, complete with a chatty Bond villain and Christian cult connections. Despite convincing textures of misery and stellar work from the leading men, “Prisoners” could easily trim 30 minutes out of its climax, making for a tighter, more haunting story. Unfortunately, the grim atmosphere of desperation isn’t seen to its natural conclusion, rendering the picture tiring and defeated in the final stretch, almost afraid to deliver the killing blow it was teasing for two hours.

Starring: Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis, Paul Dano, Maria Bello, Terrence Howard
Director: Denis Villeneuve

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