Prisoners (2013) – Film Review


A plethora of Hollywood talent is in abundance in Villeneuve’s latest production and yet it’s only Academy Award nomination was for lesser category ‘Cinematography’. This is a definite snub for a crime mystery executed in masterful proportions.

Keller (Hugh Jackman) and his wife Grace (Maria Bello) have a happy family and when they visit long-time friends the Birches, an unknown figure kidnaps both of their young daughters leaving them in despair. Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) is enlisted to solve the case and the story explores the differing ways that such a trauma can have adverse effects on both the victim and an investigator’s mental health. Both male protagonists produce powerful performances drawing on the darkest emotions and whilst Jackman’s credentials are already assured, Gyllenhaal is showing a consistent improvement with age. The desperate men each interrogate potential suspect Alex Jones (Paul Dano) whose psychological difficulties render him with the IQ of a 10 year old. With bug eyed glasses and a peculiar disposition, Dano is another that is blossoming from child stardom  (“Little Miss Sunshine” & “There Will Be Blood”), creates the ultimate ‘villain’ as his insecurities and apparent weakness make him appear frustratingly evil. His engaging portrayal only strengthens the audience’s connection with the two men as they frantically attempt to discover the girls’ whereabouts.

Nancy (Viola Davies) & Franklin (Terrence Howard) Birch provide assured supporting roles as they question the methods of Keller and the morality behind the lengths he will go to unveil the truth. Bello’s performance is also compounding, expressing the listlessness and utter loss that ordeals like these leave in their wake.  Filmic composition and cinematography are strikingly just for their Oscar nomination, depicting the hidden depths within a sedate American town. Furthermore the tasteful selection of on-screen violence and absence of ‘scare’ moments, gives the film a sophisticated feel and makes it stronger than its competitors.

A comfortable cast with good direction and a story that doesn’t rely on too many clichés, one would have expected “Prisoners” to be critically acclaimed. There are some arguable loose ends and unfortunately in a year of supreme quality, like “Blue is the Warmest Colour” and “The Hunt”, Villeneuve’s latest effort has gone unrewarded. The director has teamed up with Gyllenhall again in his next release “Enemy” which will hopefully receive more credit. Nonetheless for now, “Prisoners” are 2013’s bridesmaids and not the bride.

IMDB Rating: 8.1

My Rating: 7

Max Hilton


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