Directed by Denis Villeneuve
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Hugh Jackman, Paul Dano, Maria Bello, Viola Davis, Terrence Howard, Melissa Leo
Jake Gyllenhaal leads an incredible ensemble cast in Denis Villeneuve's twisted thriller Prisoners. The film is equal parts edge-of-your-seat suspense and heartbreaking drama. Despite its 2.5 hours runtime, the pace keeps things moving up to its stellar finale.
Hugh Jackman and Maria Bello star as Keller and Grace Dover, parents to two children. They lead your average American blue collar life. Friends Franklin and Nancy Birch (Terrence Howard and Viola Davis, respectively) live down the street and also have two children. The youngest children in the bunch disappear one fateful evening when going outside to play. Thus begins every parents' nightmare situation and we begin to see how every choice we make determines every single action.
Gyllenhaal's Detective Loki is our center point of the story, bringing together clever detective work (Loki is known for having never left a case unsolved) and personal resilience. He doesn't leave any stone unturned and even uncovers a few hidden ghosts along the way. Before nightfall, the driver of a mysterious RV that had been parked in the Dover/Birch neighborhood is apprehended. Alex Jones (played with creepy sincerity by Paul Dano) looks every bit the part of a pedophiliac and crazed criminal. When he's released from police custody 48 hours after the girls' disappearance, the true twists begin to unfold. Keller takes things into his own hands and Loki follows leads that seem promising. What we're left with is a race to the finish for both men, while simultaneously crossing each other's paths in the way. Keller comes across to Loki as a far-too-invested victim (which he is) and Loki comes across to Keller as a lazy cop (which he is not).
Gyllenhaal and Jackman give awards-worthy performances here, with the former's turn among the best work of his career. Howard, Davis, and Bello offer brilliant pieces of work here and there, but are definitely supporting characters. Dano, who is quickly mastering the art of being a character actor, is brilliant as the tortured soul of Jones. In a small, but pivotal, role, Melissa Leo turns up as Jones' aunt and caretaker.
Villeneuve, director of the Oscar-nominated Incendies, made waves at the Venice Film Festival and the recently-wrapped Toronto International Film Festival with Prisoners. The film is, indeed, deserving of its praise. While the performances may wind up garnering a couple of the actors some nominations come awards season (I'd be surprised if Gyllenhaal was passed over), the film itself may play too mainstream. Audiences seem to be enjoying it, however, seeing as the film is poised to debut #1 this weekend. Each aspect of the film is almost-perfect. The cinematography turns a small Pennsylvania town into a piece of noire art. The screenplay is organic and realistic, never making the characters feel like caricatures. The score is subtle, but impacting. The tension built makes the payoff even better.
When Hollywood tends to go overboard with cheese when releasing anything suspenseful, it's refreshing to find a smart and clever movie with unpredictable twists and turns. The set-up and pace allow you to figure out the crime with the investigators. I left the theater feeling like I could be the next Detective Loki. And, I wasn't alone. The buzz in the crowd as we left was overwhelmingly positive.
When each weekend is full of movies worthy of the $1 bin at Wal-Mart, do yourself a favor and support smart cinema like this. You won't regret it.
Runtime: 153 minutes