*** (out of 5)
September 20, 2013
Hugh Jackman as KELLER DOVER
Jake Gyllenhaal as DETECTIVE LOKI
Viola Davis as NANCY BIRCH
Maria Bello as GRACE DOVER
Terrence Howard as FRANKLIN BIRCH
Melissa Leo as HOLLY JONES
Paul Dano as ALEX JONES
Studio: Warner Bros.
Directed by: Denis Villeneuve
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
Apparently award season is starting early this year. In the middle of a month of stinker releases like “Getaway” and “The Family,” Warner Bros. is giving an early push to “Prisoners.” It’s already made quite a bit of buzz with great reviews out of Toronto, but now it has to draw in the mainstream audience.
The movie has a lot of good people involved. While director Denis Villeneuve is new to the studio scene, he’s got a slate of great actors working for him in “Prisoners.” The story follows two families whose daughters go missing on Thanksgiving Day. Hugh Jackman plays Keller Dover, the father of one of the girls, who will do just about anything to find her. Jake Gyllenhaal plays Detective Loki, who is a bit of a maverick but still tries to do things within the letter of the law, heading the case.
Soon, the investigation finds a suspect, Alex Jones (Paul Dano). However, after detaining him, Detective Loki cannot hold him any longer without more evidence. Keller, convinced that Jones took his daughter, decides to take the law into his own hands and does a little kidnapping of his own. Terrence Howard plays the other father, a reluctant partner in the events.
While the premise of the film sounds like something you might see on any one of the many police procedural shows on television, it has a decidedly different feel than prime time. Villeneuve takes his time with deliberate pacing. This stretches the film a bit too long with a 2 1/2-hour running time. That can wear on the audience a bit, but on the plus side, that structure and pacing is different enough to keep things interesting.
“Prisoners” is clearly an award-bait film, with Warner Bros. and all involved hoping for another Best Actor nod for Jackman following last year’s “Les Miserable.” And yes, Jackman does a good job differentiating his character from his normal gruff-but-suave delivery we see in the “X-Men” movies. However, it’s not that much of a stretch for him, and while well performed, it still hinges on a tortured soul with lots of yelling.
Like many films that strive to be different, “Prisoners” has a better start than finish. About half-way through the movie, things fall into cliches, featuring oft-tread scenes of the mothers crying for their missing kids, a catatonic parent who was too easily dismissed with this plot device, the tortured detective flying into a rage because he hit a road block in the case and various shots of people worrying.
Still, “Prisoners” gets an A for effort as we move through to the end. It tries to be more than just a standard kidnapping thriller, offering a greater crime behind the crime and offering some interesting twists. Not all the twists are unexpected – some are downright predictable. However, there’s enough happening in the second half of the film to have kept my interest.
There are some very heavy-handed elements to the movie, and Villeneuve seems to think he’s more clever than he really is. (Does anyone really believe he didn’t settle on the name Loki for the detective without wanting to suck up some Avengers juice from positive buzz?)
Though the biggest problem the film has is with its resolution, which never seems quite genuine. Many unanswered questions are left on the table, and not just the ones that make a good mystery. There were things that are left completely unexplained to the detriment of the story. Other parts of the story seem to deliberately make things up for the convenience of the gimmick.
Still, “Prisoners” is a fine drama with good performances. It’s likely not going to be the award-season boom that Warner Bros. is hoping for, but it’s worth watching to start a “what would you do” conversation on the way home.