Most twisted game of hide-and-go-seek, EVER.
It’s Thanksgiving Day, and Keller and Grace Dover (Hugh Jackman and Maria Bello) get invited over to a neighbor’s house, Nancy and Franklin Birch (Viola Davis and Terrence Howard), for the turkey dinner. Everything’s going fine, they’re getting a little tipsy, the dinner was tasty, and both sets of kids are getting along pretty well. However, when both pairs of parents aren’t looking, all of a sudden, the youngest daughters both go missing. Their respective families go running all over the place looking for them, but can’t find a single shred of evidence to where there may have gone; except for an beaten-down RV truck that was owned by a not-all-that-there guy named Alex Jones (Paul Dano). Determined, but slightly off-kilter Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) is assigned to the case and is trying to figure out what Jones did with these girls, however, he can’t find a shred of evidence on him either. So, Jones gets taken out of custody and back at home with his Aunt (Melissa Leo) where Keller, believing that justice has not been served to the best of its ability, decides to take matters into his own hands and discover the truth.
It’s hard to do a “kidnapped-children” thriller the right way, especially if you’re being produced by Warner Bros., but somehow the influence of a foreign director in the name of Denis Villeneuve allowed for this material to be as brutal and as dark as you’d expect a movie about two kidnapped, and possibly killed, children could be. That said, the movie doesn’t ever stretch into material that could be “depressing”; sure, it’s sad to see other people sad, but what would you expect to see from people whose reason for living has just been taken away from them, and possibly for good? You see? It’s not a happy movie, in the slightest bit but it’s not like it’s a slow-paced, character-driven drama; this is a freakin’ thriller, baby, and if you don’t know that by now, then you have to see it!
Seriously, this is a “thriller” in every sense of the word. Not only does it keep you guessing right from the beginning and barely lets you go by the end, it’s also the type of thriller that gives you just the right amount of clues and hints as to what the hell could possibly happen with this case, and to the people involved with it, but still not making you feel so certain. Even though I knew this was a mainstream movie, I still felt like anybody could have bitten the dust, at any given time, and it would totally fit with the movie’s tone. Would have been a bit of a bummer to say the least, but still would have kept me guessing and wondering what’s going to happen next, and to whom. This is what I love about thrillers, especially when they’re done right, and I have to hand it to Villeneuve, because he does a thriller, well, right.
And yes, you most likely are going to be hearing a lot of comparisons to David Fincher, and I feel like they’re suitable, but only in the sense of their moods are alike. In all honesty, I feel as if Fincher’s movies are better at doing both the procedural-police work, and the character-driven parts, at the same time, to great effect, but Villeneuve still gives him a bit of a run for his money. Every scene is calculated, timed, and set up with the utmost importance that every second, every day, every month into this case matters, and it gets you involved right away. Even with a run-time of over 2-and-a-half-hours, the movie never seems like it’s falling asleep on us, our us on it; it constantly keeps your brain thinking, your blood pumping, and, if you really can’t handle these types of movies, your bladder on the edge of fully-bursting.
Hey, like I said before: It’s over 2-and-a-half-hours, so watch what you drink before, how much, and at what time, because you’re not going to want a miss a single second of this movie.
But mostly where I feel like Villeneuve falls short of deserving the Fincher comparisons, is how he handles the final-act. Once it is revealed to us what has happened, for what reasons, and by whom, the movie loses all sort of credibility in terms of being an honest, and realistic-depiction of what it’s like to lose somebody in your life that matters so much such as your children. Before, I don’t know, before the final 15 minutes or so, everything in this movie felt real, brutally frank, emotional, and very tense, as if you really were watching REAL people go through this same situation, in REAL life. However, once those final 15 minutes (or so) pop-up, then all the realism built within the past 2-hours, practically goes to the crapper, so that things can get very conventional, and very, “Hollywood-ish”, for lack of a better word.
It’s hard for me to go into any detail about what goes down with this realization of who the kidnapper is and what happened to the girls, but what I will say is that it will take you by surprise a bit. If not, then so be it, you’re probably just a bit smarter than me and most of the crowd I saw this with. But you will be taken by surprise by what information comes to light, who ends up being the baddie, and what happens to that said baddie, while also a bit disappointed that the movie lost its previous identity, just to stick with conventionality. Maybe Warner Bros. didn’t want to lose too much control over this, eh?
Now that I get to thinking about it, I think what made the first 2-hours so realistic and work so damn well, was that the ensemble in it made every character feel like a living, breathing human-soul that has the ability to feel pain, while also be able to dish it out as well. Such is the case with Keller Dover, who is played by Hugh Jackman, in one of his best performances yet. When we first see Keller, we see that he’s a bit of a religious-fanatic that stocks up on all sorts of canned-goods and resources for the arrival of “The End”, but he isn’t a cook-ball with all of the song-singing and preaching. He’s more of a laid-back, calm, and understandable family-man, that we get to know for a good 10 minutes, until that whole facade goes away and we are then shown the evil, angry, and remorseful human-being that Keller may have been in the past, but hasn’t shown to anybody in a very, very long time. Jackman owns every scene he’s in, whether he’s sobbing in bed next to his wife; drunk off of his ass, stumbling home; yelling his lungs out at anybody around him that he sees as a person who isn’t “fully” concerned with finding his daughter, and/or the kidnapper; or trying to keep it all together, while he’s slowly, but surely, losing all sense and thoughtfulness deep down inside. Jackman is a force to be reckoned with here, and although I don’t feel like he has much of a chance at being nominated for an Oscar, something still tells me that we may be hearing whispers of his name come that time. However, it does seem slightly unlikely.
While Jackman is all sorts of powerful and compelling here, in a more showwy, chaotic way, Jake Gyllenhaal’s Loki is the same, just with more quietness added to great effect. What I liked so much about Detective Loki is that he’s a cop, that sets his priorities straight, gets right down to business, and does not stop until he’s achieved his goal, and solved the case. In other words: He’s a cop that does his job, no “ands”, “ifs”, or “buts” about it. We don’t get to know all that much about this character, other than that he’s a pretty lonely guy with no real family or friends for him to talk to, but that doesn’t matter because we know that he’s a good guy, and will do everything in his might and will to find these little girls, even if his life is on the line, more than a few times. Gyllenhaal doesn’t seem like he’d be a fine fit for the role of a “tough cop”, but he handles it with perfection, and shows us even more why he’s one of the best leading-men in the biz today.
Yup, I fucking went there, and I’m gonna stay there, too.
Though they’re the two with the most central roles in this movie, everybody else is fan freakin’ tastic as well. Maria Bello seems like she was on the verge of a mental breakdown every time she showed up on-screen, which made it harder to watch, and her performance all the more affecting; Viola Davis doesn’t get much to do here other than be sad and shocked, but she handles it as well as you’d expect a powerhouse such as her to; Terrence Howard proves that he can be a sweet, soft, and sensitive, middle-class family man that, surprisingly, wouldn’t take a hammer to some dude’s hand, even if he was highly suspected of kidnapping, and possibly killing, his daughter and her friend; Melissa Leo is pretty strange and odd as the Aunt of the suspect, and shows that she can chew scenery like nobody’s business, even if there isn’t any scenery to chew on; and Paul Dano plays the one that all of the fingers point to as the main culprit behind all of this, who seems more like a child himself in the way that he speaks, interacts with others, and just generally goes about his way. So much so, that you don’t know whether or not the guy’s actually done anything to begin with, or if he’s just another victim, caught wrongfully in this world win of mystery, aggression, and anger. You sort of feel bad for him, believe it or not. Actually, you sort of feel bad for everybody, as well as yourselves because you don’t know how you’d act in a situation like this. I know I’d act like a freakin’ nut, but that’s just me. Decide on your own time, my friends.
Consensus: For some, Prisoners will be a long strand of darkness to get through, and in one piece no less, but for those that are as determined as the characters in the movie itself, you’ll find it a rewarding, tense, exciting, and very thoughtful thriller, even if it does shoot itself in its own foot by the end.
8.5 / 10 = Matinee!!