Religious symbolism clashes with the harsh brutalities of a world bent in two by purely evil forces in the drama Prisoners which seeks to frighten, disturb, and wring us out emotionally. The redeeming qualities, however, unleash some terrific acting performances and unsettling suspense throughout a 2 1/2 hour runtime that manages to fly.
Two missing six-year-old girls from two different suburban families (Hugh Jackman, Maria Bello) – (Terrence Howard, Viola Davis) are the center of an investigation led by Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal). There is only one clear suspect to Keller Dover (Jackman), and that is a mentally challenged, Alex Jones (Paul Dano), whom Keller believes abducted the girls in his RV. Loki, however, can’t find any substantial evidence to support Jones as his man.
A spiraling investigation leads Loki and Keller to desperation in their own ways. As each day passes, the girls are certainly closer to death if they aren’t already.
Directed with a great deal of feeling by Denis Villeneuve, Prisoners resists the route of typical revenge actioners and actually heads up the drama in very realistic, albeit overwrought, fashion. The premise manages to carry the film for quite a while leading to a satisfying and physically draining conclusion that answers nearly every question the audience can throw at it. While the film lends itself to being picked apart due to the nature of an unfolding mystery, the picture is held together so well by alarmingly good performances for thinly drawn characters that have little range on paper, yet bloom onscreen.
Jackman is the angry autocratic father. Gyllenhaal is the determined investigator. Bello is the weeping wife. None of the characters have lives outside of their predicament. Yet the acting is so very good that I failed to notice it much until further reflection.
This is obviously the kind of film gunning for awards attention, and for the most part it deserves it. Jackman and Gyllenhaal especially deliver strong performances worthy of consideration. The film as a whole could be a little tighter, but I would be lying if I didn’t say that I was glued to the screen the entire time, even when I wanted to look away. Prisoners is a mostly fascinating drama that delivers a strong hit to the gut.