Prisoners (2013)

Prisoners-Jake-Gyllenhaal-Hugh-JackmanStarring: Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Paul Dano, Melissa Leo, Maria Bello, Terrence Howard, Viola Davis

Directed by: Denis Villeneuve

R. 146 mins

As relentlessly depressing as it is intensely engaging, Prisoners gives the audience much to ponder – though some of these ideas can’t survive the 153 minute long journey as it loses credibility while navigating through plot holes and hardly entertaining torture sequences. From Oscar-nominated *Canadian* director Denis Villeneuve (Incendies, Polytechnique), comes this dreadfully bleak tale that poses the question: How far would you go to protect your child? Do the ends justify the means?

It’s Thanksgiving  and two families are spending the holiday together – Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) and his wife (Maria Bello) with his neighbours played by Terrence Howard and Viola Davis. Suddenly their relaxing evening turns into a nightmare when they discover that both their little girls have been kidnapped. Panic sets in as Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) arrests the driver (Paul Dano) of a suspicious vehicle and interrogates him but lacks the evidence to keep him in police custody. Dover decides that he must take matters into his own hands and do whatever it takes to find his daughter and punish the man responsible. These two families go through hell together and it’s implied that they are old friends, but they hardly speak to one another or know much of anything about each other as if the only thing that brings them together is this terrifying mystery. There are backstories here that beg to be explored and yet more time is spent on gruesome and repetitive sequences that make the audience suspicious of all the characters until we arrive at a less-then-tight resolution.

These days, torture seems to be delivered with painful slowness. I don’t believe in censorship, but this film serves as an alarming reminder of how preoccupied we have become with such ugly subjects as torture, imprisonment and brutal deaths. Some films strike a balance between our morbid curiosities and perverse senses of humour, but others just stare into the abyss… The pursuit of happiness seems to have been replaced by misery masquerading as drama. Prisoners seeks to thrill and disturb us, but ultimately it has to be about something and yet we are constantly reminded that, without all the skilled actors and talent behind-the-scenes, this is merely a kidnap thriller filled with all the usual suspects. Thankfully, the cinematography by 10-time Oscar nominee Roger Deakins adds some beauty to the picture, though he can’t make up for the enormous pretensions that cloud the film. That being said, I am a fan of Villeneuve and he has certainly made his mark as a master of dread given that his previous films are equally unnerving but here, the characters in this film seem to have the same conversations over and over, increasing in volume as the film progresses. Ultimately, the message here is profound, in that Villeneuve suggests that all these characters have become prisoners in their own way; held hostage by the distressing situation they find themselves in. Prisoners is skillfully made, but unbelievably severe in it’s execution and frustrating in it’s solemnity – * * *

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