Prisoners is a perfect example of one of those movies that takes you completely by surprise. When it was released last year, there wasn’t a great deal of promotion nor was there any hype regardless of the two main leads being two of the biggest names in Hollywood. So to be entirely blown away and emotionally, physically and mentally captivated from start to finish was a pure delight and only made experiencing the film all the more special. It’s one of those films you wish you could watch for the first time all over again, like The Usual Suspects so you can feel the full force of its final gasp-inducing twist.
The plot is something that almost anyone can relate to in one way or another, we have all watched reports on television of missing children, where news reports are riddled with footage of the community searching woodlands, police with hounds scouring fields and parents inconsolable pleading for help on the television. Prisoners takes this notion, spins it on its head and spits it back out again in a horrifying pool of madness. On Thanksgiving, in a small town in Georgia two families come together to celebrate the day. Hugh Jackman heads the Dover family and Terrence Howard heads the Birch family. The two daughters from each family Anna and Joy go missing while playing out in the front garden, the family are only a few feet away and a mysterious camper is parked just across the road.
With the girls nowhere to be seen, no trace of a struggle or any of their belongings the case of their disappearance is opened and assigned to Detective Loki played by Jake Gyllenhaal. However, Kelly Dover becomes increasingly unsatisfied at the slow and methodical pace in which Loki is working, he takes matters into his own hands. Overcome by intense fear and deep psychological pain he drives himself into madness (with the help of a little whiskey) as he blind sightedly kidnaps and tortures the man who he thinks has taken the children. The story unfolds, with such ease that you feel like you aren’t being given time to stop and think, before you know it you have been given every piece of the puzzle and the final moments of the film are unravelling before you, leaving your jaw on the floor and your stomach at your feet.
Hugh Jackman is astonishing as Kelly Dover, his descent in to madness is so realistic it becomes heart breaking and the psychological effects of having a missing child are wonderfully emanated through his character, a feeling that only someone who has been through it would ever understand. Detective Loki almost becomes his enemy, as he is solving the crime of his missing daughter, he is also trying to stop Dover from doing anything stupid. Dover hates him, he hates the way he handles the case and thinks that he doesn’t care. The case doesn’t become as high profile as your might expect as it is just Loki who is assigned to it. Gyllenhaal portrays him perfectly, we are only shown this one side to his personality, but in no way is he a one dimensional character. He has compassion for the Dover and Birch families and he clearly, deeply cares about the safety of the children. We are given no information regarding his personal life, no hint of a girlfriend, wife, children of his own, parents, brothers, sisters – nothing. His purpose in this film is to solve the mystery, nothing more and nothing less, but he does so in a way that we feel like we know him by the end of it. He’s not just another detective in a movie, he is a detective we care about which is very hard to do given that his character, essentially, has nothing to him apart from a blinky tick.
If I was a film director, I would only ever have Roger Deakins as my cinematographer. Before talking about the direction, I have to talk about the cinematography, it was (and always is with Deakins) so beautifully shot, with slow panning shots, gently flowing in and out of perfectly constructed frames it feels like you are on a fishing boat, bobbing along the gentle waves of a calm sea. For a film that in places can be so frantic, the cinematography becomes the anchor. Sublime. The director, a relatively unknown man Denis Villeneuve hasn’t made much until now, with just a small handful of independent and short films under his belt, this has film has certainly got my attention and I shall be sure to seek out his latest films Enemy and Sicario which is due to be released in 2015.
Prisoners is an unrelenting psychological thriller with an unpredictable twist and an emotional, realistic depiction of the type of event that haunts a large majority of small towns worldwide. With Maria Bello, Melissa Leo, Viola Davis and Paul Dano in supporting roles it does everything any good movie should intend to do, it shocks and entertains as well as telling a well thought out, well scripted and well-acted story. I highly recommend it to anyone with a strong stomach and a thirst for thrillers.
Watch it any time starting May 10th at 8PM PST/EST only on HBO.
Here are some of the other theatricals coming to HBO soon: