mon 08/08/2022

Prisoners | reviews, news & interviews



Jake Gyllenhaal and Hugh Jackman spar over a missing child in an ambitious crime epic

What would you do if your six-year-old daughter vanished in broad daylight, and the man you’re sure took her is walking free? The answer for Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman, pictured bottom left) is as plain as the paranoid survivalist’s stockpiles that fill his basement. But his direct action against Alex Jones (Paul Dano), the apparently child-like man he’s sure is a monster, ripples against multiple traumas and secrets in this crime film of novelistic breadth.

The most interesting character in Prisoners’ superbly cast assembly of victims and victim-predators isn’t Jackman’s shattered vigilante, a selfless Maria Bello as his stunned, shrinking wife, Terrence Howard as the amiable friend and shocked accomplice in retribution whose daughter was also stolen, Paul Dano’s latest vulnerable, dangerous misfit, or The Fighter’s Melissa Leo, unrecognisable as his grey-haired, flinty aunt (Leo is pictured left with Dano below).

No, the creation that really lingers in the memory is Jake Gyllenhaal’s Detective Loki. The first time you see him, alone in a diner in the working-class Pennsylvania suburb where two children are lost, he seems like the sort of man who might have them. His eyes twitch with tiredness under werewolf-thick brows. He says little, instead simmering watchfully, his damped-down violence occasionally exploding. In a film stuffed with hidden compartments and cages, physical and mental, he plainly has plenty. It’s a great performance, built on stoically silent fury, and a stillness so intense it nearly quivers. Gyllenhaal gives what could be just another brilliant, damaged cop human weight of black hole gravity.

There’s a lot to admire about Prisoners. Aaron Guzikowski’s screenplay has the range and realism of one of Richard Price or George Pelecanos’s epic crime novels. Director Denis Villeneuve finds a quietly sinister, defeated atmosphere in his grey American town’s winter nights. Actually shot in an Atlanta suburb, Conyers, Pennsylvania doesn’t even seem a happy place in the opening minutes, as the Dovers and Birches relax at Thanksgiving with their kids. The dread of an accident waiting to happen, of streets secretly prowled by wolves, is there from the start.

This is a film where everyone worked honestly and well. Why, then, doesn’t Prisoners convince me? Guzikowski has crafted a fine thriller plot and many memorable characters. But each gets in the way of the other. There’s too much loaded contrivance, and multiple points of view spread the cast thinly through a leisurely 2 ½ hours. Villeneuve’s subtle touch, admirable in so many ways, also makes him pull his punches. As with Peter Jackson’s The Lovely Bones, it’s a relief not to have to wallow in the potentially awful crimes against children which Prisoners portrays. But polite veils are pulled down too often. The full nightmare never arrives, or seems likely to. Finally, Prisoners is true to its narrative’s nature, burying its best effects, some of which bloom and haunt days later. It adds up to less while it’s actually on.

Overleaf: watch the trailer for Prisoners

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