Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal play a gripping game of cat & mouse, unsure of who the mouse really is.
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Terrence Howard, Paul Dano, Viola Davis, Maria Bello
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Every parent’s worst nightmare is that their child could be abducted during that one moment, where the parent lets their child play somewhere out of sight. Prisoners manages to capture every horrendous moment of what would happen if such a scenario became a reality to two families, doubling the effect of the whodunnit crime/thriller film. Without giving away the ending, Prisoners starts how it ends; with a hunt that captures your full attention.
Set in Pennsylvania, the film opens with Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) taking his teenage son hunting in the woods [a scene which, as a vegetarian, was almost too realistic to watch]. Within these first few scenes, Jackman conveys exactly who his character will be for the next 140 minutes; the quintessential ‘macho man’ of rural America, praying for the best but preparing for the worst. You’d be forgiven for thinking that he plays the role with an unnecessary aggression at first, but you soon adapt.
During a thanksgiving get-together at the nearby home of the Birch family, the families’ youngest girls go off to the Dover house to find a toy whistle (a bizarre reason, I hear you say, but go with it). Soon, though, it becomes clear that hours have passed without the girls returning to the party. In fact, they never even got to the other house. At this point, the teenage children remember that while taking the younger ones for a walk earlier that day, they came across a suspicious-looking RV that seemed inhabited. Cue panic from both families, who immediately call the police and start searching the area.
Detective Loki [Yep, that’s seriously his surname.] played by Jake Gyllenhaal, is charged with the task of finding the young girls, and quickly finds the RV, arresting its driver (Jones, played by Paul Dano), who becomes the prime suspect. Despite Loki’s best efforts, however, the police cannot charge Jones as there isn’t any evidence found to link him to the girls’ disappearance. Dover doesn’t believe that, however, and decides to take matters into his own hands in a very extreme way.
This film knows exactly how to push your buttons, and there’s at least half an hour when even the least emotional of people could find themselves choking up, as the parents fall apart with each day that their girls are missing. This is especially true for the actions of Terrence Howard, who plays Frank; father of the other missing girl, the modern-type father to Jackman’s more traditional, hunter-gatherer sort.
The performances between Jackman and Gyllenhaal are brilliant, although it must be said that seeing Jackman without special effects, a costume or an operatic backing track takes a short while to get used to. Gyllenhaal isn’t entirely believable as the heroic policeman in some ways, but this is more the script’s fault rather than his own. He plays a character that shows a dark, troubled side, but the film never teases this out fully, leaving you wondering what his own story is. The other concern is a scene involving Viola Davis’ character, which alludes to the slightly sexist idea that women are too emotional or caring for their own good. Generally, however, this cast worked together almost seamlessly.
Heart-wrenching, gripping and emotionally draining, Prisoners is a near-perfect thriller that keeps your attention throughout.
Be warned, however: You won’t leave with a smile on your face.
In cinemas from September 20.