The bloated block busters of summer have all but faded away, and fall movie season is here. Hugh Jackman, fresh off his first Oscar nomination for Les Miserables, heads up an impressive cast in the first promising film of the season: Prisoners. Prisoners tells the story of two rural Pennsylvania families who find themselves in a rare form of crisis and desperation after each loses a daughter in a kidnapping case. Perceiving the investigation as either lazy or careless, Keller Dover (Jackman) decides to take matters into his own hands. Meanwhile Detective Loki, played by Jake Gyllenhaal, will stop at nothing to continue his streak of solved crime mysteries.
Let me first say, this movie is not for the easily disturbed.
The movie as a whole is deathly serious, deals with some disturbing subject matter, and is very intense. There are no jokes; nothing to laugh at. This is not a bad thing but more of a warning for those who aren't accustomed to it. The movie plays out in the same vein as say Mystic River or Zodiac; longer, logical, gripping, bleak, and raw. Each of these is layered, bringing much more than a crime mystery to the table.
At a running time of just shy of 2.5 hours, Prisoners never drags. The plot kicks off quickly while the pacing keeps the viewer caught up in the suspense, guessing and piecing together clues throughout. The supporting cast does well here, particularly Paul Dano's ultra-creepy character – a mentally challenged man with an old RV; while other big names like Terrence Howard and Viola Davis play their roles pretty straightforward. The main attractions here are, of course, Jackman and Gyllenhaal, who are spot-on for their roles. I'm not usually a huge Gyllenhaal fan, but he worked for me in this film.
Jackman's character is the most intriguing, watching and debating over just how far someone will go for justice, for family. The arc we see from Dover is a scary one to conceive, but we can't help but wonder what we'd do if we were in his boots.
The movie carries some extremely intentional religious overtones – it even opens with a quotation of the Lord's Prayer – further painting the picture in our minds of a man who knows the line between right and wrong. Extreme circumstances, however, cause this line to blur and forces Keller to face his own personal demons, ushering in the true morality piece of the puzzle.
While the main plot idea has been used for film fodder time and time again, Prisoners achieves a realism, despair, dread, and intensity that few in the same genre could boast.
From a haunting score to the rich cinematography to a stark sense of humanity, Prisoners is certainly worth your time. You won't leave the theater jumping up and down in excitement, but you'll certainly be caught up in the maze of mystery all the way to the final frame.