Oscar Bait Season: Prisoners (2013) Review
Reviewed by Jordan Goodier
I must confess I had high hopes for this one. I’m a big fan of Jake Gyllenhaal and Hugh Jackman, and the thriller genre is definitely my favourite. When I first saw the trailer for Prisoners, I was a very excited boy; I haven’t seen a decent, dark and foreboding thriller since Shutter Island a couple of years back, so I was in need of a new gritty thriller to help me feel all morbid and incredibly entertained. There was a lot of buzz when this film was released, with many people throwing the well worn phrases like “This is a major contender for best picture” and similar. Are they right? Does this film deliver? I darn well think so.
This film is intense, really intense. There is a lot of moral ambiguity in this film, the exploration of what a person will do when pushed to the breaking point is probably more exciting than the actual mystery. Prisoners, directed by Denis Villeneuve and written by Aaron Guzikowski, stars Jackman as Keller Dover and Gyllenhaal as Detective Loki and boasts a supporting cast of fantastic actors too; most notably Paul Dano (Little Miss Sunshine, There Will be Blood) as Alex Jones, a young man with the mental age of a ten year old. Keller Dover is your typical working American with a struggling carpentry business and a deep rooted philosophy instilled in him by his father “Pray for the best, prepare for the worst”. He and his family go round for a thanksgiving dinner to his close neighbours’ home, and while the adults enjoy a sing song, the two young daughters of the families go outside to attempt to find an old whistle that Keller’s daughter lost. This is where everything kicks off as the daughters go missing and so begins a desperate search to find them before it’s too late. This is where Gyllenhaal’s Detective Loki comes in as he heads up the search for the two young children.
The performances of the actors in this film really are fantastic. Gyllenhaal plays Detective Loki as a man who seems very isolated and alone but completely devoted to his job. It’s mentioned that he has never failed to solve a case, and his reaction when he believes that he may not be able to solve the case in this film shows that Loki has some hidden past that has caused him to be so focused on his job. Throughout the film, Loki is shown to have this little “tic” where he blinks his eyes a lot when he is stressed, and he is attached to his phone constantly when he has a little downtime in between leads on the case. There are lots of nuances to Gyllenhaal’s performance that give the impression that there is more to the detective than meets the eye, but we never get anymore than just a glimpse into who he is; and this helps to keep you hooked whenever Detective Loki is in a scene.
Jackman gives an impressive performance too as his character is at the forefront of the action and helps to pose the moral questions to the audience. Keller is a man that will do anything to find and to save his daughter and it takes him to some very dark places. A highlight for me was a scene in which Keller displays his anger and utter desperation to find out where his daughter is, but tops short of doing some real harm. I don’t want to give anything away, so just watch out for the scene where Jackman starts slamming a hammer around.
Maria Bello is also on hand as Mrs Keller, and helps to throw in some of the more emotional scenes as the mother struggles to cope with losing her daughter. Her line “You made me feel so safe, you told me you could protect us from anything” packed a particularly harsh punch to my heart. Paul Dano as Alex Jones is particularly creepy with his performance and though he has a chilling scene early on that makes you question whether or not you should feel sorry for his character later in the film, by the end you’ll have a pretty firm stance on where you stand with this character.
Denis Villeneuve directed this film masterfully and the tone he sets to keep the tension pretty solid throughout the film is very consistent. The cinematography by Roger Deakins is fantastic and carries through the dark and foreboding tone set by the director. Every scene that takes place outdoors shows how dark and tense and grimy the story is, the locations used throughout help to hammer home how bleak they wanted this film to feel. Dull skies, lots of mud and rain, dull houses, dead trees. The opening sequence of the film is a highlight for me in terms of the cinematography; it’s a great opening for the film and sets the tone for what is to come.
Prisoners is definitely one of my top ten films of the year, the acting by every single one of the cast is spot on, the writing for the film keeps you hooked and the directing/cinematography made this film look pretty fantastic given it’s gloomy and dull looking location. There have been whisperings of some award recognition for Hugh Jackman for his role in this, and I’d say it’s well deserved. I‘d even say that a best picture film nomination is something that shouldn’t be out of reach for Prisoners. But Hollywood is a strange beast and Prisoners missed out on a Golden Globe nomination, which could be (apparently) an indicator of things to come. In any case, this film gets a massive recommendation from me and if you’re looking for some intense drama, this is the one to see.