The autumn movie season kicks off with psychological thriller Prisoners (R).
A ridiculously elite cast stars Hugh Jackman, Maria Bello, Terrence Howard, and Viola Davis as two families who have young daughters kidnapped on Thanksgiving Day. Jake Gyllenhall plays the detective assigned to the case, and Paul Dano and Melissa Leo play persons of interest. Dennis Villanueva directs.
Ryan: Prisoners is a fairly successful crime thriller. The token “kids go missing” theme/procedural gets turned on its head when the movie showcases the classic motif of how far a parent will go to protect/find their children. The results are unsettling because the movie grays the typical black and white narrative elements of these types of films. I do believe the movie goes off the rails toward the end and overstays its welcome, but as an adult crime drama it succeeds more than it fails.
Andy: Prisoners is a a disturbing movie with some terrible events that unfold, so it is hard to get too excited about a film like this. But the movie is so effectively unnerving because of the authentic performances from essentially every member of the cast. Dennis Villanueva was pulling from a deep bench, but sometimes a cast with this many notables gets bogged down. In this case, he manages to get top notch performances all around, which leads to an effective execution of a very dark script.
Ryan: Although it isn’t as good as Seven or Zodiac, it’s reminiscent of those movies in terms of atmosphere and tone. Prisoners is a very dark and alarming film. With the assistance of Roger Deakins’ cinematography, Villenueva is able to craft a claustrophobic world of dread and fear. Visually speaking, Prisoners is a cut above most thrillers of this sort and that goes a long way in adding to the intensity of the film’s narrative.
Andy: As is the case with almost any crime-drama, there is a consistent theme of mystery to the film. It purposefully twists and turns through the final 45 minutes so much that it almost becomes counterproductive. A movie like this is entitled to a good gotcha-moment, but it feels like Prisoners is too close to spinning out of control toward the end. Clocking in at just over two and a half hours, it seems like Prisoners could have been a lot more effective if it were about 20 minutes shorter. Fortunately, the interesting moral questions raised by the film (how far will people go to protect their children?) overshadow some contrived plot twists.
Ryan: Jackman’s haunting portrayal of a despondent yet driven father leads the strong ensemble cast of Prisoners. Above anything else, it’s nice to see Jackman in a non-genre movie where’s he’s playing an everyman. Also delivering a noteworthy performance is Jake Gyllenhaal. I don’t really know if Gyllenhaal is a great actor but he’s a good, consistent actor—he’s that non-flashy first baseman that bats .300 every year. In a lot of ways Gyllenhaal is the glue guy that holds the film together.
Atmospheric, moody and unnerving, Prisoners is a (mostly) well-crafted crime thriller.
Final Grade: B.