Director: Denis Villeneuve
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Maria Bello, Terrence Howard, Viola Davis, Melissa Leo, Paul Dano, Dylan Minnette
Plot: When two girls go missing, the fathers go to extreme lengths to torture information out of their only suspect, even when it becomes clear they are looking in the wrong direction for answers.
Prisoners knows how to handle its timing. In a society, where we are terrified of child-snatching and paedophilia, Prisoners comes along and portrays the deepest fears of any parent with brutal clarity.
During a Thanksgiving dinner, two families spend time together. When they get drunk, they lose track of their two girls. In a frantic panic, the father of the Dover family, Keller asks his eldest son for any clues of where they could have gone. Clinging to any memory or possible answer, his son remembers a creepy RV hanging out on the street. The police are called and a cop, that has solved every case he has been on, Detective Loki, picks up this creepy RV-owner. Despite him looking like the perfect culprit, it turns out that he knows nothing about the abduction. However, Keller cannot wrap his mind around the concept that they have no idea what happened to his daughter. He kidnaps the suspect and begins to brutally torture him into giving up information that he does not have. Meanwhile, Detective Loki is caught between trying to figure out what the Dover family are up to and finding their daughter.
On one hand, Prisoners is a pretty good mystery thriller. It is the kind of film that I used to like when I first got into cinema. The story spends twenty minutes setting up a mystery, in this case a child abduction, and then we spend the rest of the movie, trying to figure out what happened. A movie hasn’t quite done that in a while, so for that reason, Prisoners was an enjoyable experience. However, on the other hand, Prisoners is a really interesting character piece with clear references to other political contexts. The characters are weakened slightly by becoming archetypes, rather than characters in their own rights, but at the same time, this is interesting enough for the audience to forgive this little side-step. Take Detective Loki. I love how the character was portrayed. He was statistically the best cop in the force, as the movie reminds us that he has never failed a case. However, when we meet him he doesn’t really strike us as the American version of the hero. He isn’t very good with people and seems to be following so many guidelines that he isn’t really connecting with the case. Even when Keller begins to lose our empathy as a character, we are left wishing that Loki would at least try, or pretend, to see his point of view. However, Loki remains distant and we can kind of see how an outsider to his investigation might seem him as incompetent or the wrong person in the case. One of the main morals of the story is that there would be a far quicker and happier resolution if everyone just let Loki, or the police, get on with their job, rather than trying to do it better than them.
Keller Dover is one of the more interesting characters, and definitely worthy of Hugh Jackman’s attention. Now, he is what we see as the traditional hero. He is wronged by the world, the loss of his daughter, and he stops at nothing to get her back. He breaks those guidelines that Loki seems to live by. Even when his character takes a nasty turn, we never lose sight with his pain. However, this is what makes his character’s arc so much more painful. We can see that, deep down, he knows he is wrong, but he is unable to admit that he has no idea what has happened to his daughter. Therefore, he tunnels down the only road he can see, the one in front of him, getting farther from the truth as every moment passes. His story could be seen as a microcosm for the military, government… there are quite a few readings to get from this character. Equally interesting are the Birch family. Some have complained that they seem to get pushed out of the story halfway through, but I found it interesting that the moment they learnt Keller was torturing the suspect, yet they chose to do nothing, they were removed from the story. They had the power to do something and they didn’t, therefore they stopped being relevant to the story or investigation. Intentional or not, that was quite a powerful moment.
Maybe Prisoners gets a bit too lost in the message. While the resolution to the thriller was pretty satisfactory, I wanted it to go a little deeper. The clues suddenly all knit together and I was expecting this big OMG twist, but the movie doesn’t quite go there. It partially connects the dots, but I was left thinking that there was more to the picture than the director was letting on. Personally, I would have liked for the truth to be completely outed, rather than letting everything be kept in the shadows, something Villeneuve enjoys a little too much. However, the ending could have been a lot worse; there would have been nothing more mood-killing than a disappointing ending, which thankfully does not happen.
Final Verdict: An interesting thriller, powered by its characters. Gets a little lost in their message, but nevertheless a worthwhile mystery.