Director: Denis Villeneuve
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Hugh Jackman
I was lucky enough to catch an advance screening of ‘Prisoners’ back in 2013, through the Show Film First initiative. At the time, I had no idea who Denis Villeneueve was or what he was capable of. I was very familiar with Jake Gyllenhaal though, so throw him into a crime-mystery setting and I’m sold already. Since then, ‘Prisoners’ has become one of my all-time favourite films and Villeneuve has proven himself to be a tremendously talented director, excelling himself with the thrilling ‘Sicario’ of this year.
Far from the large scale of the Mexican drug war, ‘Prisoners’ is a far more intimate story, sparked by the kidnapping of two young girls in a suburban neighbourhood. Not happy with sitting back and letting the police carry out their investigation, Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) turns vigilante, torturing the simple-minded suspect Alex (Paul Dano) in an attempt to find his daughter and her friend. Dover’s actions put him in something of a conflict with Detective Loki (Gyllenhaal), the hotshot who has never failed to crack a case and who is trying desperately to connect the dots and find the missing girls.
The key to the success of this film is most definitely found in the acting skills of Messrs Gyllenhaal and Jackman. A plot which has largely been done before, is given a real edge by the passionate, fiery performance of Hugh Jackman as as inconsolable, uncontrollable, irrational father. I’ve never been a huge fan of Hugh – yes, even as the hallowed Wolverine – but this is a real game changer; he really digs deep to pull out brilliant moments of rage and desperation. Gyllenhaal doesn’t quite hit the heights of a Lou Bloom (Nightcrawler) or a Donnie Darko here, but his Detective Loki is certainly very cool, likeable and he provides a great hero figure. It’s a brooding, charismatic display, from a character who for the most part looks to show very little emotion, yet upon closer inspection, we see that his job affects him deeply. It’s all in the details, like the excessive blinking and an underlying need for control.
I love pretty much everything about this film to be honest, but I will try to play it cool from here on out. The only downside I can pick on is the runtime, which at around 2 and a half hours is pretty lengthy. Personally, I could watch this story unfold for a few hours more, but not everyone is as obsessive as me. Like I said before, this story is nothing new really. Kidnapping mystery movies are ten a penny, but what makes ‘Prisoners’ that extra bit special is the musical accompaniment, provided by the very talented Johan Johannsson. Just as he accomplished with ‘Sicario’, Johannsson puts together a chilling yet beautiful composition which flows deep beneath the surface of the story and underpins the relentlessly sinister tone of the film. Visually too, there are moments of exceptional cinematography, the standout being a high-speed hospital dash where Detective Loki has an eye full of blood and a windshield battered by snow. The cuts between in-car shots of Gyllenhaal, bathed in blue and red police lights, and external shots which wind with the road ahead, provide a quick-paced and hard-hitting sequence which perfectly exemplifies the nature of Villeneuve’s intense and intelligent filmmaking.
‘Prisoners’ is not quite perfect, contrary to my unwavering praise here; I’m firmly of the opinion that Villeneuve has outdone himself this year with the superb ‘Sicario’. That should not detract from ‘Prisoners’ however, but instead show just how highly I rate ‘Sicario’. This is an outstanding film, with a gripping plot and a distinctly unsettling atmosphere that you just can’t help but be intrigued by. I regularly update my top 50 films of all time list – I’m a keen list-maker – and ‘Prisoners’ is pretty much settled in my top 35. How impressed you are by that, and in turn ‘Prisoners’, depends very much on how much credibility my opinion holds. I will let you be the judge of that.