What would you do to save a loved one? What is your moral compass? How strong are your core values as a human being when tested? “Prisoners” poses these questions and more in its sometimes successful thriller/kidnapping story.
Directed by Denis Villeneuve and written by Aaron Guzikowski, “Prisoners” is about the Thanksgiving Day disappearance of two little girls in a suburban Pennsylvania neighborhood and how far one parent will go to find them. The parents, Keller and Grace Dover ( Hugh Jackman and Maria Bello) and Franklin and Nancy Birch (Terrence Howard and Viola Davis), provide the police with a lead, which after a long search, produces a suspect–mentally-challenged Alex Jones (Paul Dano). But is he the kidnapper? Keller Dover believes Jones is and goes to great, horrific depths to ensure that Jones is charged, while never giving up on finding the girls. The police, however, are not as certain as is Dover, and hence the conflict.
Hugh Jackman is very convincing as the emotional, volatile parent, not afraid to take matters into his own hands. Terrence Howard shines as the other father whose outward appearance is very difference from Dover’s. He’s the parent who keeps his emotions in-check, but you can see he’s seething inside. Jake Gyllenhaal does a good job as the tightly wound detective assigned to the case and his scenes with his fellow officers and the families are very compelling. More about his performance later. Also exceptional are Paul Dano as Jones and Melissa Leo as his protective aunt. Maria Bello and Viola Davis are terrific actresses but have little to do other than portray the yings to their husbands’ yangs.
As noted earlier, Melissa Leo is very good as Alex’s aunt, but I have to question why as to why she was cast. She’s made up like an old woman wearing 1980s-style glasses. If they wanted to show an older woman, why not go out and get an older actress. There are plenty of seasoned actresses who would have been great and happy for the work…Jacki Weaver and Ellen Burstyn are just to who come immediately to mind.
Now let’s talk about the most disturbing aspect of the entire film–Jake Gyllenhaal’s twitch/tic. Was this a choice he made as an actor or that of the director or does he really have an eye twitching problem? If this was supposed to be part of his character, it should have been explained. After the first few minutes of this, it became extremely distracting and detracted from, not added to, Gyllenhaal’s overall performance.
“Prisoners” is beautifully shot and it will hold your attention from beginning to end. However, I found parts of the film a little difficult to follow and some clues are glossed over so quickly you might not notice them. But if you’re in the mood for a crime story without the mind-numbing special effects, “Prisoners” will fit the bill.