In his English-language film debut, Canadian director Dennis Villenueve has struck gold with his elaborate, gripping crime thriller “Prisoners.”
Hugh Jackman stars as Keller Dover, a religious, simple Pennsylvania carpenter, and Terrence Howard plays his neighbor Franklin Birch, whose worlds are ripped apart on Thanksgiving Day when their daughters Anna and Joy go missing while playing outside after dinner. Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhall) is the officer assigned to the case, which becomes more unclear and disturbing as it progresses despite the early apprehension of a suspect-Alex Jones (Paul Dano), whose role is unknown, yet seems overwhelmingly important.
As the investigation turns to a statewide search, new discoveries are unearthed, new characters are introduced, and the case that seemed ready to be broken within a day takes turns deeper and deeper into the maze.
“Prisoners” keeps several stories open at once, including the police investigation, Dover’s and Birch’s personal quests to find their daughters, and the anxiety their families struggle with as they await news on the whereabouts of their loved ones.
The movie touches on some very deep and realistic emotions, which show the vulnerability of the characters and the reality and plausibility of the situation. The determination and subsequent rage of Dover, the frustration of Loki as he attempts to tie together several leads, the increased anxiety and depression amongst the family members, and the silence of Jones while in questioning all combine to make the movie seem as if it could easily happen in real life, making it all the more riveting.
The movie is put together in such a way that, as a viewer, one can feel a wide range of emotions for all characters, including disgust toward Dover and sympathy toward Jones, which is something highly unusual for a movie with fairly clear cut “good guys and bad guys.”
Several elements present in this movie offer strong comparisons to the appealing factors of other popular crime thrillers and series. The dark, predatory world Loki has to search through, and the eerie and sometimes sickened individuals he meets are reminiscent of the popular nineties thriller “The Silence of the Lambs”, along with the subtle gore and psychologically compelling characters that give “Prisoners” the suspenseful feel of an extended “Law &Order SVU” episode.
Another aspect of the movie, which may fly under the radar but should not be unnoticed, is the superb acting of Gyllenhall. The 32-year-old actor is no stranger to large roles, but took this one with exceptional talent and persuasion. The small things he brings to the table such as his nervous tics and blinking when he was enraged, and his heartfelt reactions to new revelations make him stand out exceptionally as a dramatic and seemingly real character.
“Prisoners” was not without certain flaws, however, albeit they were minor. There were some loose ends that were left untied concerning certain characters that left you wondering “wait, who was he?” or “what was this person’s relationship with this character?” They were more of nuisance flaws, completely innocuous to the plot itself but that still left you thinking about how easy they could have been to correct.
Regardless of the minor flaws, “Prisoners” is an exemplary crime thriller and drama. Despite its length (153 minutes) it hits you with a never ending combination of trepidation, uneasiness, and shock as you submerge yourself into the deep twists and leave yourself vulnerable for a wide array of emotions that are sometimes felt all at one time. “Prisoners” is a truly transcendent movie, and is deserving of very high marks for a film within its genre.
Kenny Ayres is a fourth-year student majoring in communication studies. He can be reached at KA739433@wcupa.edu.