Prisoners (2013) – Thriller | Drama
Directed by: Denis Villenueve
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal and Hugh Jackman
How I Watched: DVD
Best Line: “They didn’t cry until I left them.”
I don’t know what it is, but Jake Gyllenhaal does a wonderful job slipping himself into fantastically creepy films. From Donnie Darko, to Nightcrawler, to Villenueve’s own Enemy, he always seems to be somewhere on the bill in these type of films. Now, if you saw Enemy, you might be expecting Prisoners to be REALLY weird. It’s not, but it’s got enough of that Lynchian, otherwordly line-walking to make you want to turn on the lights.
Prisoners is not a feel good movie. I will tell you that now. It’s dark as hell, mostly brown and grey throughout and the characters are permanently scared and/or yelling the whole movie. But holy shit, is it vicious. From the onset, Hugh Jackman quietly utters the lord’s prayer as a deer takes its last breaths and it does not let up from there. Every scene seems to be bathed in a perpetual dusk that the entire cast seems trapped in. It’s a very claustrophobic film that is precise in its efforts of making you feel like shit. I can really see a lot of people not being able to handle some scenes in this one.
If you watch the trailer for Prisoners, you can tell what this story is about, so no worries about this spoiler. Two families lose their daughters in the middle of the day and Gyllenhaal investigates their disappearance. Hugh Jackman is Hugh Jackman in this one, and you get about what you expect from an ‘unsettled Jackman’ performance. However, Gyllenhaal and Paul Dano are magnificent and really carry the film. Dano does his best “creepy guy in a van” at the beginning, but as time passes, he becomes so much more than that. His soft-spoken demeanor is terribly discomforting beneath those wire glasses that are so typical in child-kidnapping films.
Gyllenhaal, though is really the barometer of the film’s emotion. From the beginning, the viewer is challenged to make a choice between Jackman’s outbursts as a frantic father and the situation that Dano finds himself in after the girls disappear. Gyllenhaal is always there, dividing the two parties, testing your limits as a viewer. It’s not a simple choice to make and the movie does everything in its power to throw your emotions into a blender.
The rest of the cast is just kind of there, though. This is perhaps the film’s greatest flaw. Both Jackman’s wife (played by Maria Bello) and the other mother in the film (Viola Davis) are understandably grieving the whole film, but that’s really all they do. Terrence Howard attempts to show emotion, but it’s not very convincing. Melissa Leo is pretty good as Dano’s aunt, but again, Dano and Gyllenhaal really steal this one away from everyone else.
At times, Prisoners really rides the line of the supernatural. Not ghosts and witches, but more like the end of the first season of True Detective; that awful feeling that I know you got when the detectives entered Carcosa in the finale is present in a few scenes in this film. It does not really stick to that, but still, Villenueve definitely has some skill in discomfort.
I feel bad about this, but I did not see Villenueve’s 2015 Sicario. Trust me, I really want to, I just have not gotten around to it yet. Seeing that he is taking the helm for Blade Runner 2 (due out 2017) makes me really excited, though. Enemy was an awfully creepy little story full of doppelgangers and Kafka-esque suggestions that will fit into the Blade Runner universe perfectly.
While I definitely would not suggest Prisoners if the kiddies are around or you had a rough day at the office, it’s perfect for those nights where you want to watch a scary movie that’s not that kind of scary movie. The performances from Gyllenhaal and Dano are excellent and while the story was a few hairs away from being epic, it’s a moral brain-twister that will have you talking when the credits roll.
Final Score: 3.5/4
Similar Films: Mystic River, The Lovely Bones, Zodiac