Copyright © 2013 by Warner Bros. Pictures
In the midst of a Thanksgiving dinner invitation from Franklin (Terrence Howard) and Nancy Birch (Viola Davis), both Joy Birch (Kyla Drew Simmons) and their guests’ daughter, Anna Dover (Erin Gerasimovich) have gone missing. Detective David Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) is assigned to the case but when he is unable to detain prime suspect, Alex Jones (Paul Dano) whose alleged RV has been parked nearby the Birch residence on the same day, Anna’s father, Keller (Hugh Jackman), abducts Jones and uses all forms of torture to extract information on his child’s whereabouts. Unsuccessful, he confronts his aunt, Holly (Melissa Leo) and discovers a morbid connection to the unsolved juvenile murders and the current kidnapping.
An intimate look at the human psyche and its detrimental effects to an obsession; all in the name of love. It does bring to mind some other notable classics such as ‘To Die For’, ‘Fatal Attraction’ and ‘Misery’. While the intentions of these perpetrators were certainly more devious, would it justify the actions if the cause is nobler in nature? It is easy to pass judgment on psychotic rampages that are clearly out of line but what if the extremity inflicted is to root out an unforgivable deed?
It is an exploration of faith and hope in an abusive and lonely environment disguised as a mystery. Known for his previous Oscar nominated effort ‘Incendies’, Denis Villeneuve steadily builds his movie with a loving family out for a reunion dinner with close friends and the contrast of dining alone. The routine is livened up with a penchant for astronomy trivia. A comforting mood is short lived and quickly turns into a desperate attempt when the daughters of both families vanish without a trace.
From this point on, the events that unfold only set a bleaker and consistently solemn tone throughout the rest of the story. It is a difficult film to bear and even harder to stomach for the use of violence during Dover’s interrogation. For its longer running time, halfway through the investigation, it does drag a little but under the very capable hands of Villeneuve, the course remains on track and finishes off strong (surely worthy of debate with avid fans long after it is over).
Besides acting as a social commentary on abuse and its aftermath, it is a showcase for the ensemble cast to shine. In supporting roles, noteworthy to mention are Dano, Davis and Gyllenhaal who are faultless as suspect number one, grieving mother and relentless police officer respectively. Dano, especially is outstanding as the supposedly mastermind behind this heinous act. He comes across as creepy, innocent and sympathetic all rolled into one.
He is most affecting in an encounter with Jackman about his accomplishment after his release from custody (his sheepish remark to Dover is unabashedly smug while playing coy in the public eye). In return, Jackman mesmerises with his best performance to date. It is no easy feat when all of his fellow co-stars are abundantly talented, yet without his involvement, ‘Prisoners’ would most likely have spiraled into full-on melodrama minus the heart and soul to ground its sometimes preposterous scenarios.
The entire first and second acts are built squarely on Dover’s quest for justice and our Tony winner’s delivery to each minute of it is just superb. His stint in ‘Les Misérables’ must have tapped for a wider range of emotions and they are used to great effect to convey the anguish and desperation of seeking a loved one. The eponymous title may be a reference to the missing but dissect it further, what you will find is a profound look on fractured and lost minds trapped in a cage which begins from the bad to the really sadistic choices made in life.
Rated R for disturbing violent content including torture, and language throughout