When two young girls are abducted outside their house, the Dover and Birch families are devastated and fear the worst. When a suspect is released due to a lack of police evidence, one of the girls fathers (Hugh Jackman – The Wolverine) decides to take matters into his own hands to find answers before it’s too late.
Prisoners is a strong and questioning drama from writer Aaron Guzikowski and director Denis Villeneuve that really places its audience directly into the middle of this child-kidnapping nightmare. It’s harsh, depressing and very dark in places but it’s also a fascinating look into the lives of the people coping with such a devastating tragedy and the lengths taken to find hope amongst the horror.
The entire cast are extremely convincing and combine to make Prisoners a very memorable project. Leading the movie is Hugh Jackman, who handles the trauma of his kidnapped child with believability and a stubborn fragility that’s perfectly layered. His wife, played by Maria Bello, also convincingly conveys the shattered hopes of a family torn apart by tragedy.
Jake Gyllenhaal is excellent as a worn-down detective looking for answers and really hands in a performance of substance. His physical demeanour mirrors his strained and restless character and makes the film both believable and engrossing. Paul Dano continues to steal his scenes, this time as a man-child who may or may not hold the key to finding the missing children. Elsewhere, there are memorable turns from the ever-reliable trio of Melissa Leo, Terrance Howard and Viola Davis, who all help make Prisoners a great ensemble piece.
The plot moves at a believable and engrossing pace and for the most part, nails every emotion and horror associated with the kidnapping perfectly. But there are a few plot points that really don’t work and feel at odds with the rest of the movie.
There’s an early scene when Jackman is surveillancing the house of his daughters accused kidnapper. There’s a very subtle moment when Paul Dano whistles a song that his daughter had been singing on the day of her disappearance. This sends shivers down your spine and gives the viewer a nice conundrum. However this is preceded by a act of animal cruelty by Dano that backs the storytellers into a corner. That scene makes it painfully obvious that this guy is a bad man so when Jackman and co are having doubts over his involvement, we as an audience don’t feel that doubt. Take away the animal scene and we as an audience are on the same level as Jackman.
Despite its disappointing finale – that focuses too much on absurdities and abandons stark realism – Prisoners still manages to avoid certain traps and clichés to its benefit. There are many times when this story could have gone down a predictable path but it never does and keeps the severity of its main subject matter to the forefront of your mind. It doesn’t needlessly feed you red herrings for the sake of suspense and allows the natural horror of the situation to govern your emotions.
Prisoners is a compelling and devastating drama that holds your attention throughout. Despite its end failings, Prisoners still comes out as a strong story that will make you question what you would do in a similar situation. Taut and uneasy with stellar performances throughout, Prisoners is a must-see thriller that lingers long after the credits roll.