I’m aware that I always bring up the fact that I’m younger than most critics, but this scenario is one that is completely applicable to how I felt during a certain film. I’m 17 years old and I don’t have any kids (which I’m pretty sure is a good thing). I’ve never had the experience of being a parent and losing any of my children, if just for a little bit of time. However, I’ve “lost” my siblings every now and again and it freaks me out because I don’t know where they could be and what they could be doing. Fortunately, I always find them and discover that they had just wandered off or had told me something that I’d forgotten. In the case of Prisoners, two parents have their daughters abducted and their constant turmoil is worse than anything you can imagine.
We begin the film with a shot of Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) and his son Dylan (Dylan Minnette) hunting in the woods. Keller is said to be a survivalist who is always expecting the best, but is also prepared for the worst. On the night of Thanksgiving, Keller and his wife Grace (Maria Bello) take Dylan and their daughter Anna (Erin Gerasimovich) over to a friends for Thanksgiving Dinner. Franklin and Nacny Birch (Terrence Howard & Viola Davis) and their two daughters Eliza and Joy (Zoe Borde & Kyla Simmons) are good friends of the Dover’s and entertain all throughout dinner. When Dylan and Eliza take Anna and Joy outside to play, the two little girls happen upon a parked RV in the road and begin to play on it. The eldest kids remove them after seeing someone inside of it and they take the girls home. Later that night, the two little girls ask to go to Anna’s to get something and the parents allow it, thinking that the girls would go tell their older siblings to go with them.
Unfortunately, the Anna and Joy left by themselves without telling their siblings. When Keller and Franklin go out looking for the girls they come up short. Dylan mentions the RV and the police are called immediately. As the frantic parents search for their daughters, Officer Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) gets a report that the suspected RV is parked out near a gas station. When Loki reports to the scene, the driver of the RV tries to flee, but ends up trying to kill himself in the car. When Loki and other officers search the damaged car, they find Alex Jones (Paul Dano) hiding out in an overhead bin. They immediately take him into custody, wherein they discover he has the IQ of a ten-year-old. The more and more questions that Loki asks Alex, the more frustrated and concerned Keller gets because they are making no progress in finding his daughter.
Day in and day out, the search continues as Alex is seemingly found less guilty. Due to police restrictions, they have to let Alex go if they don’t charge him. Keller can’t fathom this decision because he is still no closer to finding his daughter. He and Loki will often butt heads, as Keller is a frustrated man and Loki is just doing the best he can. As the story unravels, we will discover hidden truths about characters and will see firsthand, the lengths that some people are willing to go to so that they can protect and save the ones that they love.
For most of this film, I was on the edge of my seat and was a nervous wreck. As I mentioned, I don’t even have kids, but the flood of emotions that overcame the characters made perfect sense to me. To see them break down and cry over the loss of their daughter made a real human connection with me. This is a film that will have a more profound effect on parents, but will still reach out and touch non-parents as well. Just in my theater, I saw many fathers and mothers cringe at the notion of their own children being abducted and I think that speaks words about the realism of this film.
Leading and carrying this film are the performances by Jackman and Gyllenhaal. While Gyllenhaal adds a more calm and curious character to the film, Jackman is the antithesis, as he is ferocious and incredibly emotional. Both of them turn out their best performances and the balance that they bring is an important one. During one scene in particular, Jackman lets loose and puts everything he has into it. IF, he should be nominated for an Oscar, that particular scene would be his Oscar Clip (you’ll know it when you see it). I thought that Jackman’s portrayal as a wreck of a father was phenomenal. I’ve decided that he was better in this than he was in Les Miserables, but both certainly demonstrates that he has established himself as one of Hollywood’s best actors in the business. His actions and his thoughts, as drastic as they can become, all seem justified because of how great he is in this film.
As great as the film is, it still suffers from a few problems. More than anything, the two-hour-and-twenty-minute runtime was excessive. Everything that the film wanted you to see could have been condensed into two-hours. Whereas we get to see Viola Davis often, we don’t spend too much time with Maria Bello’s character. Being the mother of an abducted child, I think her presence and reactions to the dilemma could have been explored more. When it comes to the “twists-and-turns” that this film tries to incorporate, I believe that a few of them were somewhat irrelevant. They were intelligent twists-and-turns, but they seemed a bit out-of-place and just tack on time for the film.
Despite its few issues, Prisoners is an amazing first feature film effort from director Dennis Villeneuve. Aaron Guzikowski, the man behind the script, explores a lot of dark places that are grounded in reality. I can easily recommend this film to anyone mature enough for the subject matter and I believe it’s a film that will make you hold your kids or your parents a bit tighter afterwards. Do I think it’s Oscar-worthy? I don’t believe so. However, I think that Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal give an incredible performance that COULD earn them nominations, depending on the other “amazing” performances we will see later this year. Nomination or not, Jackman and Gyllenhaal give their best performances in a film that will force you to think, whether you want to or not. Prisoners is easily one of the year’s best films!