‘Prisoners’ review: Hugh Jackman shines in procedure drama

Posted: September 29, 2013 in Movies, Reviews

The subject matter of losing a child is both difficult and heady, meaning anytime you discuss the topic you get hand-wringing and cringing.  We cringe because the thought of losing your child is probably the worst thing that can happen to a person.   As a father of two daughters, Prisoners was a film that connected with me on a personal level.  Hell, that sinking feeling in your stomach when you turn around in Wal-Mart and for a split second you can’t find your kid – only to realize that they are across the isle.  It’s a real fear and I hope and pray that whoever reads this never has to go through anything like what the film Prisoners presents.

Prisoners is a procedure drama that has a couple twists and turns built in that is meant to give the film longevity.  The film stars Hugh Jackman as Keller Dover, an everyday working man trying to keep his family above water while also being a caring husband and father.  He’s the dad you’ve always wanted.  He’s the teacher, friend, confidant, and leader.  As the movie opens we see Keller and his oldest son hunting in the woods where his son nabs his first deer.  Then on the ride home Keller tells his son that you always prepare for the worst.  It’s a conversation that has extreme significance to the film.   Later that day, which we learn is Thanksgiving day, the Dover’s walk over to neighbor/friend’s house – the Birch’s.  Played by Terrance Howard and Viola Davis play Franklin and Nancy Birch, a pretty straight laced couple with two daughters of their own.   Things quickly spiral out of control when the Dover’s youngest daughter – Anna – and the Birch’s youngest  daughter – Joy – go outside to look for a red whistle and don’t return.  Events quickly go into motion as the story shifts to Jake Gyllenhaal’s character – Detective Loki – a hard nosed cop who’s never not solved a case.   As the story progresses the twists and turns begin to come at you fast and heavy as we’re introduced to a couple of unusual suspects, most notably Paul Dano’s character Alex Jones, who happens to drive an RV spotted in the Dover’s neighborhood and has the IQ of a 10 year old.

The movie runs a tad long at two hours and thirty minutes but it never seems like it as the story is always moving at a fast pace and the dialogue never stops.  Don’t let anyone fool you, this is Hugh Jackman’s greatest performance on-screen.  He’s a tour de force as an actor in Prisoners.  There are times when Jackman is yelling and you can tell that his entire being is on display, there is not acting in those scenes, just raw emotion.  Also showcased in the film is Jake Gyllenhaal, who puts on his greatest performance as well.  I’ve always wondered why Gyllenhaal never received his proper due, but he should garner it with his role here.   The supporting cast is also top notch.  It’s been quite some time since Terrance Howard was in a movie this good, but he’s perfect as the timid father of a missing girl who just doesn’t know what to do.  Davis is also perfectly cast as Howard’s wife who knows the events that transpire during the film are wrong, but also will stop at nothing to get her daughter back.

The movie isn’t perfect as there are some questions I had about the plot; why is Loki the way he is?  We aren’t told or even given glimpses of what motivates the detective.  He’s got tattoo’s all over his body and has a tick/twitch that is interesting but never explored.  I believe it’s a missed opportunity by the writers to establish Loki as the actual hero of the film.  Another question I had was why Paul Dano’s character wasn’t explored more, he’s a central character to the film but he’s more of a placeholder.  He obviously knows something but won’t say anything…why?  That’s never explored.  The writers, likely, spent so much time trying to establish Jackman’s character as the father who takes matters into his own hands but also left other pivotal characters in the wind.  Luckily for the audience Gyllenhaal takes the source material and makes it his own.

Prisoners is an early Oscar contender for Best Picture and will likely net Jackman a Best Actor nomination and potentially even a win.  He’s earned it.  Prisoners will likely try to capture that early Academy Award buzz, much like Argo did last year, and ride it to February.

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