‘Prisoners’ complex, stunning


Mystery movies are a favorite of mine, especially ones whose plots  keep me guessing. But the drawback of crafting the plot of a mystery thriller is that it can easily become a derivative and predictable, allowing the viewer to solve the puzzle within the first half hour of the movie. “Prisoners,” a film by director Denis Villeneuve, is neither derivative nor predictable, and has already set itself up to be one of the best movies this fall, just in time for award season.

The film’s opens with Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) out hunting with his son. Before he allows the teenager to shoot a deer, he first recites a prayer which is repeated throughout the film. Keller and his wife Grace [Maria Bello] take the family, which also includes young daughter, to the home of family friends with whom they eat Thanksgiving dinner with each year. Franklin and Nancy Birch, played by Terrence Howard and Viola Davis respectively, share a similar family structure with a teenage daughter and a young daughter. At some point during their dinner the two young girls wander off and go missing. The son says he saw an R.V earlier that the girls were particularly drawn to so the police are called and a kidnapping is suspected.

The R.V is found by detective Loki, played by Jake Gyllenhaal, the lead investigator on the case, and inside police find a mentally challenged man named Alex Jones, played by Paul Dano. The girls are nowhere to be found in the R.V and because Loki he is not able to extract any information out of Jones on the whereabouts of the missing girls, he is forced to let Jones go. Keller becomes increasingly upset by Jones’ release and takes it upon himself to capture and torture him until he reveals the girls’ location.

Taken as a mystery, the film is brilliant in its execution and incredibly tense throughout. When Keller has gone to the point of torture to find his daughters, it makes the opening scene a lot more interesting, as he has given up his religious values but continues to pray. The audience sees a man who embodies American values reduced to a savage in pursuit of finding his daughters. The characters all share a sort of moral ambiguity that consumes them when they lose the ones close to them. Detective Loki, who becomes just as emotionally invested in the case as the parents of the missing child, keeps his rational composure while concealing a mysterious background expressed through a strange tick and unusual tattoos on his arm and fingers.

“Prisoners” does a great job creating an unsettling atmosphere filled with twists and turns and the performances — especially by Gyllenhaal and Jackman — are fantastic. The movie can be gruesome at times and there are some disturbing torture scenes, but the violence serves to drive the plot of the film and make it more impactful. “Prisoners” is a complex maze that will have the audience wandering trying to figure out where things will go next.