Directed by Denis Villeneuve
Written by Aaron Guzikowski
Directed by Denis Villeneuve
Written by Aaron Guzikowski
It is the beginning of fall. The weather is slowly changing and the holidays are quickly almost here. Why not start out the best part of the year for films with something intensely dark, moody, gripping and that goes places that are difficult to watch. Well, that is my type of movie and Denis Villeneuve's Prisoners is a hardened, gloomy piece of cinema that solidifies him as a director to look out for in the near future. It also contains two powerful performances from Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal, as well as a number of supporting turns that complete the film. If you thought the trailers for this film gave away a little too much, think again, as this film expertly builds on the suspense and the turns and twists continue up until the end.
Prisoners takes place in a cold, gloomy, grey Pennsylvania town. Keller and Grace Dover (Hugh Jackman and Maria Bello) and there teenage son and young daughter are going over to their friends house for Thanksgiving dinner. Franklin and Nancy Birch (Terrence Howard and Viola Davis), along with their two daughters, both around the same age of the Dover children, are going to enjoy a Thanksgiving with close friends. Drink some wine, have some good food and some laughs. The two little girls, Anna Dover and Joy Birch, want to run back to Anna's house, just a few blocks from the Birch's, and look for Anna's missing red whistle. They went outside earlier, with the elder siblings, and saw an old Winnebago parked on the street. They played on it for a second, but left. This second time outside, they went alone and did not come back home. The Winnebago was gone.
Villeneuve set the film up without wasting little time. Within the first fifteen minutes I was thoroughly engaged, terrified and completely sold on what I was about to see. That is sometimes hard to do. I believe a director needs to grab your attention right away. I know within the first ten to twenty minutes whether a film is going to be something special or something that might be a struggle to sit through. Villeneuve did not mess around and with slow paced shots, I will get into Roger Deakins masterful cinematography in a bit, and honest acting, I was in for the continuation of this film.
The two little girls have been abducted. The parents are screaming and fearing the worse. We see Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) eating Thanksgiving dinner all alone at a Chinese restaurant. A somewhat rogue loner of a detective, he takes the call. He discovers the Winnebago parked outside a gas station on a cold, rainy night. There are many rainy and snowy days and nights that just continue to add to the unsettling, bleak mood of this film. An intense back-and-forth occurs and the man inside is arrested. Alex Jones (Paul Dano) is threatened by Loki and taken in for questioning, but after a complete search of the RV and Jones, there is no evidence of him having anything to do with the abduction of the two little girls. Jones is declared to have an IQ of ten and the police have no evidence and belief he could have committed this crime. After a 48-hour hold he is let go. Now the story goes in a haunting direction.
Keller Dover is adamant that he has to find them on his own. A carpenter and religious man going through a period of slow work. He does not trust anyone to find his little girl but himself. The places he goes, within himself physically and emotionally, are devastating, frustrating and alarming. The man spends a week looking for his baby girl. He believes the police have dropped the ball and knows the terrible track record of finding missing children. Keller takes matters into his own hands and kidnaps Alex, believing he is fully responsible for this abduction. When Keller confronts him after he has been released at his home, Alex is signing the same "jingle bells, batman smells..." song that the girls were singing at dinner. He knows this man has them. He and the much more docile and afraid Franklin want to find them so bad like any parent would. Franklin reluctantly, well, he is almost forced into helping Keller, but knows what he is doing morally wrong and sees that Keller is turning in to his own kind of devil during this holding of Alex. Franklin has the support of his wife Nancy, but Keller's wife Grace as gone comatose with prescription pills. It is one part of the film that lessened it a bit. I am not saying this would not happen, but it would have been nice to see Bello, a fantastic actor, not have to play the woman that cannot take it and just lay in bed all day. It did not like that direction at all.
The film continues to unravel, piece-by-piece over its 153 minute run time, but never once becomes dull or unfulfilled. It is a truly immersive, uncomfortable experience and goes to some very dark places of what human beings, good or bad, are willing to do to survive. The puzzle that Loki must go through to find and solve this case is much in the vein of another Gyllenhaal film, David Fincher's Zodiac, but believe me, this is a very well made film, but it is not anywhere near as good as that film. It is dark, but there is only one Fincher. No one makes thrillers any better than he does. The film has its moments where it is a little confusing, but seems to straighten itself out later. The directing, acting, writing and production value are all in top form.
The Canadian director Denis Villeneuve has firmly stamped his place in the filmmaking world. He directed the hell out of this film and has a delicate, dark touch to his progression of storytelling. He also had a brilliant, crafty screenplay from new writer Aaron Guzikowski. The real intensity and joy of this film is in the acting, mainly of the two leads Jackman and Gyllenhaal. I would not be disappointed at all if these two actors received accolades during the awards season. Jackman is as raw as I have ever seen him and way darker and more growling than any of his Wolverine performances. He is a visceral monster of his own in this film and does not hold back his fear and emotions. The moral dilemma he puts himself through is seen through ever glare of his tired eyes and clinched, blood-bruised fists. Gyllenhaal, however, slowly molds his character from of a mystery, with his mason ring and tattooed fingers, into someone that has probably fought demons of his own, but will do whatever it takes to find these two girls. He is as intense, if not more, as Jackman is and whenever he is fighting or apprehending someone it was highly believable. It is not soft or fake at all. The man has grown immensely as one of the better actors working today and continues to make insightful and challenging choices.
Before I conclude this review of Prisoners, I have to mention the stellar camera work of Roger Deakins. The man is the best, along with Emmanuel Lubezki (Gravity), at his craft and he can make tree bark look suspenseful and menacing. Graceful with his movements and the decisions he makes on where the camera should start or be at to get the full effect of the shot and scene. All beautifully done. There is a scene near the end of the film that contains one of the main characters driving, speeding, through a heavily rainy and wet road that is just about as perfect as it gets. The lighting and angles are so well thought out that I was completely enthralled and satisfied in what I was seeing. Deakins is truly one of the best cinema has ever had at his craft and this is some of his best work.
In the end, I was completely gripped and thoroughly enjoyed Prisoners. A dark, moody thriller, that minus a few minor confusing plot points and a disappointing direction for Bello's character, kept me entertained throughout. Villeneuve has exhibited a detailed direction and sophistication in his approach to the material and never once gives in to the audiences expectations. A true talent and he had such a wonderful cast to work. Everyone involved delivers with an outstanding effort and watch out for a great, chilling supporting turn from Melissa Leo. Prisoners is a near-perfect thriller and a great way to start off the fall film season. I honestly cannot wait to see this film again. I do not know if there will be anything darker than this film this year, but we will have to wait and see.
Credit by IMDB.