Wednesday 23 October 2013

Film Review: Prisoners

Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal star in Prisoners, a gripping drama/thriller by director Denis Villeneuve that depicts a nightmare situation for any parent; the disappearance and abduction of a child. 

Keller (Hugh Jackman) and Gracie Dover (Maria Bello) are at their family friends home (Terrance Howard and Viola Davis) for Thanksgiving. It's a day like any other before the unimaginable happens; both their own, and their friends daughter disappear, never returning from the outdoors.

"Hugh talking to me?"
Before long, the search for Anna Dover and Eliza Birch has spread to the nearby woods, roads and roped in every police man in the State, including Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal). As the days tick past, and the likelihood of finding the girls alive decreases, Keller rapidly spirals out of control trying to bring his daughter home.

Much like Vittorio De Sica's 1948 Italian neo-realist film The Bicycle Thief, Prisoners works so well because of the ambiguity of its title. For the former, the true identity of the 'bicycle thief' is revealed at the very end when Ricci robs another man's bike after his own was stolen. The film therefore asks the audience, who here was 'the bicycle thief'?

Prisoners asks the same kind of question; who actually are the 'prisoners' in the film? The little girls? Alex, held captive by Keller? Or the parents themselves, trapped by their own mourning. What is effective about Prisoners, is the moral ambiguity represented through Jackman's character.

"This drawing is so good, it's going on the fridge"
Hugh Jackman's fatherhood figure goes well beyond the law to find his daughter. But she was taken from him in the first place; does that make his actions, to some degree, justified? It's a strong character driven film that explores the grey and murky decisions people make when in a crisis.

Prisoners is worth paying full-price for the acting alone. Hugh Jackman gives  his best career performance to date. Kellers' increasingly drunken and sleep-deprived state sees Jackman shouting himself hoarse and growing increasingly gruff by the minute. He utterly convinces as a dedicated and loving father pushed to the brink in desperation. It's a really gripping performance that succeeds his roles in The Prestige or Les Miserables. Let's hope he receives some nominations for what is some simply awesome acting.

Meanwhile, Jake Gyllenhaal follows up solid lead roles in End of Watch and Source Code with another strong performance here. Together, Jackman and Gyllenhaal are an impressive duo who elevate this film from run-of-the-mill abduction flick to the gripping and memorable thriller that it is. I found that Gyllenhaal's character hadn't been fleshed out quite as much as hinted at however; he had this flickering eye twitch that always suggested depth before never materialising.

The narrative is built like a maze so few will find themselves one step ahead. There are a lot of dead ends and red herrings to lose yourself in, which I liked. No-one wants to see a film they can call from the get-go.

Factor in the score, the cinematography (the use of shadow and darkness is gorgeous) and Prisoners is fantastic on a technical level too. Some of the shots are so well thought out and put together, it adds even more to the horror and tension.

Some viewers may find this film to be very emotionally draining and a long slog; at two and a half hours, Prisoners is a long film with many slowly-paced sequences. You have to go into this film expecting drama, heart-break and sometimes, terror. If you don't want to see a family having a really bad time for 140 minutes, this might not be the film for you.

Also, if you don't feel comfortable with some graphic torture scenes or violence, you may not enjoy Prisoners. That's not to say it is a bad film, it is just very confronting at times and not for the faint of heart.

For me, I was kept hooked by the gritty cinematography and masterful creation of suspense. I thought the ending was a little weak; I found that the real thrill of the movie is not the final reveal but the slowly building tension throughout.

The Verdict: 8/10

Prisoners is a quietly haunting film that contains some raw and gritty performances from a the strong double-whammy of Jackman and Gyllenhaal. Dark, murky and at times, confronting, Denis Villeneuve has put together a film that is a wonderful character-driven study of desperation and lost faith. It isn't perfect but it exceeds standard drama/thriller fare.

P.S. Please Hollywood, cast Hugh Jackman as Joel in a film adaptation of The Last of Us. Like, now.


  1. Makes me want to see it now...

  2. Definitely a great, haunting movie I felt, with some seriously great performances. I'm seriously hoping Jackman especially doesn't go ignored come awards season this year as well. Nice review. :)

    1. Thanks man, the movie was definitely better that I thought it was going to be!



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