Film Review: Prisoners
Hugh Jackman plays Paul Bunyan-esque father Keller Dover, whose young daughter disappears on Thanksgiving
Published: September 25, 2013
Directed by Denis Villeneuve
Finally, all of Wolverine’s ferocity, as evinced by Hugh Jackman, has found an earthly application. In Prisoners, Canadian director Denis Villeneuve’s first American-made effort, Jackman plays Paul Bunyan-esque father Keller Dover, whose young daughter disappears on Thanksgiving, along with his neighbors’ little girl. In the face of this, Keller boils with rage and frustration. When he shoulders through a huddle of reporters to threaten a suspect (Paul Dano), one can picture him sprouting adamantium claws and tossing people skyward in his wake.
Early on, Keller’s wife, Grace (Maria Bello), in abject anguish, curls up on their bed and sobs that he had made her feel safe and promised lifelong protection; in response, Keller goes mad. He starts his own investigation, apart from the dogged but methodical and plodding work of Detective Loki (an uber-twitchy Jake Gyllenhaal). His search quickly transforms into an interrogation complete with qualities of torture. Striking is his readiness for such ruthless behavior. He’s a religious man, a man who, while hunting, steadily recites the Our Father before killing a doe. But he doesn’t hesitate to bludgeon his way to the truth.
Images of religion permeate Prisoners, but screenwriter Aaron Guzikowski’s script treats it like a device rather than a theme or a question. It’s manifest in tattoos and prayers, candles emblazoned with images of the Virgin Mary, and faith ultimately serves as plot linchpin, but Keller’s possible crisis of faith—in a movie that possesses little subtlety—is brushed off.
There’s room for deeper exploration of emotion here, but instead of mining its potential, Prisoners opts to confound and thrill with its twisting plot. It offers easy shows of exasperation (Loki destroying his desk, Grace resigning herself to a semi-permanent drugged-sleep state, couples fighting), then dives back into action. Terrence Howard plays the father of the other girl who is abducted, and in his lack of overt rage, he appears almost passive. Again, however, the contrast is not earnestly played up or probed. It’s a solid script and a more-than-decent movie, but there wasn’t enough editing.
In its final moments, Prisoners employs an Inception-like wink; this after exhaustively wrapping up and bow-tying nearly every plot point. The move seems like an attempt at cleverness, a trick that misses its mark. It succeeds in puzzling viewers enough to keep one engaged for two and a half hours, but it would do well to leave more in the dark.
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