Two things really struck me about Denis Villeneuve's Prisoners. Hugh Jackman's angry fist of a performance and the gloomy reality these characters are trapped in. His performance as a man who will stop at nothing to find his kidnapped daughter is unflinching in its intensity. Jackman has always played men audiences root for in some way or another, but he delivers his best performance to date as Keller Dover.
Two families have their young daughters taken from them on Thanksgiving in a small Pennsylvania town. Keller is a man who is always prepared (his basement basically doubles as a fallout shelter), but he is physically and emotionally unprepared for this. As he runs around the neighborhood looking for his young Anna, the parents of the other daughter (Terrence Howard and Viola Davis) join in, and the tension methodically begins to build. Anna and Joy are nowhere to be found.
As everyone knows from watching a million movies and television shows that feature kidnapping, the few hours are critical. Detective Loki is appointed to the case, and he tells Keller and his wife, Grace (Maria Bello) that he will find the girls. He is played by Jake Gyllenhaal, and he plays Loki mindful determination that contrasts with Jackman's character.
Within hours, an RV that the girls were playing on in their neighborhood is located at a nearby rest stop. As police edge closer to it, the driver, Alex Jones (Paul Dano), tried to escape and crashes into a tree. Alex seems guilty right off the bat. He's creepy and still, and he barely speaks to Loki as he questions him even after he's roughed him up a little bit. To say that Keller is convinced of his guilt is an understatement. He wants the police to charge Alex even though there is no evidence that the girls were ever in the RV. Keller needs to blame someone, and he begins to take matters into his own hands.
I don't want to give too much away, so I will leave it at that. I will say this, though: you probably think the trailer showed too much. I definitely thought that, but I assure you that one of the best things about this movie is how it unfurls to the audience. It's slow and dark. Originally turned off by the over 2 and a half hour running time, I was floored when 75% of the trailer happens in the first half hour. I didn't know what to expect.
The performances across the board are strong. This might be the finest I've seen Gyllenhaal too. He is one of my biggest school yard crushes, and he lost himself in this role. We don't learn much about his character, something that typically annoys me when it comes to films. Perhaps his job is his life? We don't know. I thought Viola Davis was going to be wasted, but she has some nice moments (especially in a moment with Dano). I mean, come on. The world needs more Viola Davis, and I will take what I can get.
I noticed a lot throughout the movie that the camera focuses a lot on trees and the sky. It's all so gloomy and dark. I remembered zipping up my hoodie an inch or two, because it started to press down on me. I had some very honest reactions while watching Prisoners. I clutched my mouth in shock at some points, and the audience I saw it with was really connected with it. Not being able to find your child must be an absolute nightmare, and this riveted me the entire way through.