Monday, September 23, 2013
Amazing Acting and Cinematography Propels Prisoners to Greatness
At a length of nearly 2 hours and 40 minutes, Prisoners really puts you through the wringer in terms of emotional depth. And like most films that involve a crime investigation with exciting reveals and shocking acts of rage, it's best to know as little as possible. So here are just the basics: Hugh Jackman portrays Keller Dover, a man of exceptional Christian values who would be right at home on an episode of Doomsday Preppers--his basement is stocked full of supplies--food, ammunition, propane, batteries--one would need in an economic collapse. His family (wife, teenage son, young daughter) goes to a friend's family (wife, teenage daughter, young daughter) for Thanksgiving, and the two younger girls go out to play after the meal. Hours later, they are nowhere to be seen.
A phone rings. A detective pauses his lonesome Thanksgiving meal at a Chinese restaurant (typical movie detective, obsessed with his job) and answers. He gets the lead in the investigation of the missing girls. It's Jake Gyllenhaal, and he portrays Detective Loki, a young and determined policeman with a perfect record of solving cases. He's obsessed with his job, and constantly looks determined due to a nervous blinking-of-the-eyes tic. His first tip takes him to an RV that was seen near the scene of the crime. The driver turns out to be Alex (Paul Dano, who was great in There Will be Blood), a young man with the IQ of a 10-year-old (but somehow has a driver's license). After intentionally ramming the car into a tree, Alex gets arrested as a key player in the investigation.
Don't worry: this all happens early on in Prisoners, a film that firmly plants you on the edge of your seat for over two hours. The acting is incredibly top-notch, particularly the two male leads in Jackman and Gyllenhaal. Jackman's Keller is a man that has always been prepared for everything, so when his daughter is taken, he has a powerless feeling that has (so-far) been unheard of in his life. Jackman has some incredible scenes: it's a testament to his acting ability that he can portray anger and not remind you of Wolverine. But Gyllenhaal is even better: he's in a bit of a thankless role--these types of detectives always get pigeon-holed into specific character traits. But Jake G. rises above the cliched norm, surprising the viewer with his intensity and tenacious smarts about the nature of man. And to a lesser extent, Paul Dano is great in his limited time.
Prisoners is a scary film. Not like a horror movie, where the scares are meant to jump you out of your seat. But scary because it puts you in the position of a father who will go to any extreme to find his daughter alive. Keller realizes (and the viewer does too, considering all of the true-crime television shows plastered across the cable networks) that with every hour that passes, the chances of finding the young girls alive dwindle and shrink. This isn't a normal revenge film, where the father goes on a killing spree the entire time to save his offspring. It's slower and more subtle, and because of that, Prisoners focuses much more on ambiguity and doubt than on bloodshed. (A)