Prisoners review

With September coming to a close, we’re starting to undeniably get some Oscar-worthy films at the beginning of the awards season. Performances and scripts shine from films like Rush or Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine. Now we have Prisoners, the first Hollywood mainstream movie from Canadian director Denis Villeneuve, where father Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) and Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) each try to do the best they can to find the two abducted daughters of both Keller and his friend, Franklin (Terrence Howard).

Just to start off, I’d like to point out that the film is 2 and a half hours long. Seems daunting, doesn’t it. You’ll be glad to hear that it hardly wastes a minute. While it’s undeniably slow burning, this only adds to the accumulating tension and dread as the main characters struggle to find any sort of clues that would lead to the recovery of the two missing girls. Occasionally the dark tone and twisted nature of the story leads to some quite distressing viewing, but this only demonstrates how well executed the film is.
Hugh Jackman’s is the standout, putting his heart and soul into becoming a visceral, raging character who desperately wants nothing more than his daughter back. Giving his best since The Prestige back in 2006, he’s definitely one of the highlights of the film.
Mostly he doesn’t completely overshadow Gyllenhaal’s Detective Loki, who has not escaped the world of The Avengers as you might expect at first glance. Like Jackman, Gyllenhaal is giving one of his best, although in definitely a more controlled and quiet performance. The two work exceptionally well together, with great sparring chemistry and some great scenes involving a lot of shouting at each other. It’s brilliant.

The supporting cast is all solid, if a little wasted at times. More than once Terrence Howard, as a contrastingly timid father, is reduced to quivering tears at the sight of Kelly Dover’s desperation in finding their daughters, but as soon as the scene is over he’s shunted away for quite some time. Paul Dano is insanely creepy as the prime suspect for the kidnapping and, after appearing as brash characters in movies such There Will Be Blood and Looper, it’s great to see him pull off a very sinister and quiet performance. If creepiness is your thing, then there’s heaps of it from Melissa Leo as Alex’s troubled aunt and David Dastmalchian as a shady and mysterious connection to the case, which made me wonder more than once if it was possible to arrest people on the basis of being downright creepy. Apparently you can’t.

The direction, while it may not be snappy and lively, succeeds in creating a tense mood that you constantly fear is about to be shattered, just waiting for someone to flip out – which most definitely happens more than once. The script paints the characters lovingly, but almost skimps a bit on the actual logistics and logic behind the abduction, and as I walked out of the film, I noticed a huge gaping plot hole that I still can’t explain. This mainly happens in the third act, but to the film’s credit it was stooped in so much gut-wrenching tension that I barely noticed. So, well done movie.

Prisoners is a very raw and distressing movie. It’s also incredibly rewarding, regardless of length or how tough a watch it is. Filled with great performances, fantastic characters and horribly sinister tension, it’s worth going to see.

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Rory Doherty
I've had a passion for film for a long time now, with the intention of pursuing a career in writing and directing. Over the past few years I've been directing short films with friends, as well as some animation. I've recently started writing scripts for stage as well as film as part of a script-writing class, where our work has been performed in the past as part of the Connections Festivals. As well as film creation I also have a strong interest in film analysis and reviewing. I've been writing film reviews for around a year, and as part of BBC Generation 2014 have contributed on Radio Scotland's Culture Studio to review films featured in the Edinburgh Film Festival.
Rory Doherty

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