‘Prisoners:’ Finish The Movie And You Get To Go Home

Prisoners is two and a half hours long, but it doesn’t get boring. It also doesn’t get too exciting, or smart, or even really, truly emotional. It’s…pretty okay. Dramatic, for sure. Predictable too, in a way that I’m not sure is intentional or isn’t intentional. Because if we aren’t supposed to figure those things out one step ahead of the characters, there is still something about the film that makes it fairly suspenseful, or at least intense. It’s hard to pinpoint.

Perhaps it’s simply the nature of the subject matter. Child abduction, parents’ reactions, the ensuing investigations, suspects, etc. causes unheard of panic and emotional chaos. On Thanksgiving Day, two small girls disappear from their own neighborhood. The only clue to their whereabouts is a beat up RV that was parked on the road earlier that day. The sequence of events, the way it escalates, is heart wrenching and emotional, to a point. The first twenty minutes or so are so well crafted, so subtle, and so artistic. Then, Hugh Jackman transforms and goes full-on Wolverine, and Prisoners becomes the story of how one father reaches to great, illegal lengths to try to bring his daughter home while his wife (Maria Bello) cries and takes sleeping pills, and while Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal), just tries to do his job.

Prisoners mostly treads in the waters of the investigation and Jackman’s racing heart and boiling blood, and it only very slightly dips its toes into the other side of the story, the kidnappers, the crazies. But honestly, that’s the more interesting end of the pool. The glimpse that we get into the world of the abductors is great and messed up and I wanted to know more, way more, than they give us. But that’s not the story the filmmakers decided to tell. Instead, the film focuses on a lost and exhausted father, a twitchy cop, and the vague sense that we, as an audience, should debate this moral ambiguity that’s happening in front of our eyes. Sure, it seems like a fascinating concept to tell the story of the parents, to point the lens to the familial trauma and what that can do to a person, but the whole film is relentlessly about the same one question, and it doesn’t really get answered…or stay unanswered in a satisfying way. There’s too much sympathy built into each of the characters’ situations to feel anything like real anger or distaste for any of them.

Some of this dissatisfaction may come from the acting. Jake Gyllenhaal is suberb as Detective Loki, save for a few eye twitches that seem more than a little well timed. But Jackman remains too pretty and polished to convey someone who’s completely lost it. No one else in the cast of unbelievable actors, Viola Davis, Terrence Howard, and Paul Dano, is given anywhere near enough to do. It’s really all about Hugh. And then, all of a sudden, we are assaulted by Melissa Leo and her face and it’s just the worst for a while. I apologize, but Melissa Leo takes me out of any movie she’s in because every line of hers gets translated to, “Look how good I am! I am Oscar Winner Melissa Leo and I am acting!” in my brain.

On top of being predictable, the plot is at times too convenient. It becomes one of those stock thrillers where while watching, you find yourself asking questions like, “Why would that character ever enter that building alone?” and saying things like, “This whole, suspenseful scene was suspenseful and all, but in the real world he definitely would have just called an ambulance.”

It’s disappointing that Prisoners reduces itself to the triteness it does and abandons that complexity, because it is so promising at the beginning. It’s shot beautifully, and the intensity is supplemented by a real, East Coast wet and slippery, winter-y gray that permeates the film til you feel it, the soaked discomfort, in your bones. I just wish that wasn’t the only thing I took with me from the theater.

Grade: B-

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10 years ago

Watch this ! This might change ur mind!