UK Release Date: 27th September 2013
Runtime: 153 minutes
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Writer: Aaron Guzikowski
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Paul Dano, Viola Davis, Terrence Howard, Melissa Leo
Synopsis: When two young girls are kidnapped and the prime suspect can’t be held any longer, one father takes matters into his own hands.
Since David Fincher released Se7en in 1995, it has been the high watermark of the bleak thriller genre. The spectre of Fincher’s masterpiece looms large over Prisoners, which tries its best to match Se7en’s darkness. It was never likely to succeed, but it comes pretty damn close.
Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) has his life turned upside down when his daughter is kidnapped along with one of her friends. Prime suspect Alex Jones (Paul Dano) is released without charge soon after by Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal), which prompts Keller to embark on a desperate, violent quest to discover what happened to his little girl.
There’s an awful lot going on here, but the true star of Prisoners is evident from the beginning – master cinematographer Roger Deakins. His washed out palette of greys and browns, making great use of torrential rain creates an unrelenting sense of foreboding around the film from start to finish.
This beautifully complements Denis Villeneuve’s understated direction. Villeneuve is a director who is content to hold his camera stock still, letting the action of Prisoners unfold around him. Frequent use of close-up and obscured views amplifies the unsettling feeling created by the film’s mise-en-scène.*
Hugh Jackman commands every scene in which he appears. It’s a towering, imposing performance full of barely concealed menace, with a core of grief. Jake Gyllenhaal is just as strong. His straight-laced cop seems cool and composed on the surface, but facial tics and jitters betray the true demons within.
Unfortunately, Prisoners suffers from similar problems to the recent Halle Berry thriller The Call in that it completely loses its way in the final act. For around 100 minutes, Prisoners is gritty and genuinely intriguing. Its characters act like real humans and there’s an interesting side plot about the ethics of torturing someone and how far vigilantism should go.
All of this interesting stuff is ditched for the final hour of Prisoners, which takes a great thriller and turns it into a generic whodunnit that would be more suited airing as an ITV crime drama. The twists and turns come thick and fast, but they aren’t surprising; they’re ridiculous. By the time the ending finally arrives after far too long of pointing guns and shouting, all of the earlier intrigue has evaporated.
This is yet another prime example of the problem Hollywood thrillers have with getting the ending right. Prisoners is a really good film that could’ve been great. Unfortunately, this is far from Fincher.
* I’m allowed one pretentious film studies phrase in my reviews, right?
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