Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Movie Review: Prisoners

Prisoners is easily one of the most jarring films in recent memory. I'm talking heart racing, fist clinching, pants shitting film making at it's best/most excruciating. I was not prepared for director Denis Villeneuve's methodically dark thriller and left the theater feeling gutted. It was only after a second viewing that I could fully digest and appreciate this gargantuan, labyrinth of a film.

Gargantuan is right. With a run time of 153 minutes and laced with some of the gnarliest (graphic/disturbing) content imaginable, Prisoners feels like fucking Gone With Wind...from hell. The film centers on a pair of rural Pennsylvania families whose two young daughters are kidnapped on Thanksgiving. The turmoil these families endure and how they react under such hellish circumstances make up the emotional core of the film. The subsequent police investigation and the white knuckle cat and mouse game with multiple suspects that ensues provides the thrills.

Hugh Jackman plays a desperate father hellbent on finding his child. Paul Dano is superb as the mentally unstable public enemy #1 suspect in question, while Viola Davis and Melissa Leo are both heartbreaking and mystifying as wounded mothers/aunties. Villeneuve's cast is basically all around awesome, but Jake Gyllenhaal's take as Detective Loki is easily the standout performance of the film. Loki (yes that's his name) is a lone wolf detective with a checkered past and a spectacular fucking haircut that becomes the film's anchor when all the gruesome shit starts to hit the fan. Yes, the anti-social SVU investigator with neck tattoos is the lone voice of reason in the sick sad world of Prisoners. That's how fucked up things get in this flick. Jackman screams and gets nuts like Michael Keaton in Batman, Dano gazes with lifeless doll's eyes and Gyllenhaal is jumping fences and twitching like Spider-Man with PTSD . Oh, and everyone cries. A lot.

Although bleak in content, Prisoners' is visually, an absolutely gorgeous film to behold. Shot by legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins (The Shawshank Redemption, A Beautiful Mind, No Country For Old Men, Jarhead, The Assassination of Jesse James..., Skyfall) every frame onscreen is a masterwork. The cold Northeastern landscape almost comes to life, with danger lurking behind every rain soaked tree branch. Deakins' visuals, coupled with Johan Johansson's minimalist score (think uber minimal, like listening to yourself breath in a dark closet...with snakes) creates Prisoners' legitimately haunting atmosphere. Hats off to director Denis Villenueve for assembling such amazing talents to pull this thing off. Also, his use of long takes and subdued pacing raises the tension meter by 1000%. When shit actually happens and the utter silence (aside from mouth breathers like me in the theater) is broken, it's down right electrifying. I mean Jesus, the "car scene" is worth the price of admission alone.

Make no mistake about it, Prisoners is a dark and morbid film. I'm not even talking about the kidnapping stuff either. There are so many tragic themes brought up in this movie, it plays out like a twisted philosophy lecture. What would you do to save your child's life? Terrence Howard's character woefully claims that he would die for his daughter...but what if that's not enough? In extreme circumstances, do the ends justify the means? Vigilantism vs law and order, eye for an eye type stuff. Struggles with faith, hope and utter despair. It's a technically dazzling film with amazing actors and the most spellbinding imagery since The Place Beyond The Pines, but be warned, Prisoners is not an entertaining fun night out at the movies. It has the fly on the wall procedural craft of Zodiac, and the gory shell shock effect of Seven. It's the craziest damn Law & Order: SVU you could imagine and is one of the best films of 2013 thus far.


  1. My friend Asahi went to see Prisoners on Monday and absolutely raved about it to me so I had it on my must watch list but this has just bunked it up a few rungs, it sounds like something that's truly special!

  2. I passed on this one a few days ago. I think I shouldn't have passed. Damn..

  3. Sorry, I must be getting more critical in my old age. I was mildly disappointed in this one. It tried to be Mystic River in tone and substance, I think, but failed. The surprise ending seemed pretty contrived to me, and Hugh Jackman, as good as he is in action movies and song-and-dance, just doesn't have the range to pull this off, quite. Movie needed a directorial touch like Clint Eastwood, and a lead actor with more chops, in my opinion.