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Prisoners

Prisoners

What She said:

She

If you’re anything like me, you totally missed the release of Prisoners in the theater.  It apparently came out at the end of September, and it’s not like this is an obscure film.  It stars Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Maria Bello, Melissa Leo, Viola Davis, Terrance Howard, and other higher profile celebs.  And yet, somehow this mystery/suspense film did not get a lot of visibility.  It’s a shame.  Prisoners feels a lot like another Gyllenhaal movie, Zodiac, in that there’s an air of mystery throughout, and many possible avenues for resolution.  I think it leaves too much open to interpretation, but it still managed to keep me interested for the full two and a half hours.

Prisoners tells the story of two families whose lives are shaken when their young daughters are abducted on Thanksgiving.  They are all just having a good time and then the girls go outside and vanish.  Jackman plays the father of one child, and Howard is the father of the other.  They immediately suspect the driver of an RV that was parked nearby.  That person turns out to be Alex Jones (Paul Dano), who seems to not quite have it all together but who swears he has no knowledge of the girls’ whereabouts.  Gyllenhaal plays Detective Loki who is assigned to the case.  He’s a little rough around the edges, but apparently is ridiculously good at his job, and he’s clearly very passionate about it.  Although Loki has his suspicions about Jones, there is not enough evidence to hold him, and so that police have to release the young man back into society.  And that’s when all heck breaks loose.  From there we begin to see what lengths a grieving parent will go to in order to get their child back.  We also witness a complex investigation unfold that has ties to earlier crimes.

I don’t want to go into too much detail and hence give some of the fun away, but Hugh Jackman’s character, Keller Dover, goes nuts.  While his wife tries to medicate herself through the ordeal, he just goes on a tear to find his daughter’s abductor.  It’s hard to actually like him, because he’s pretty irrational about it, but at the same time you can agree with his inklings and ambitions.  This movie remains mysterious through nearly the entire thing, giving very little away.  But the story is driven by the characters and the rich acting.  Jackman, Howard, Dano, Bello, Davis, and Leo all do fantastic jobs personifying their characters.  There is so much anguish, and I like how each character handles the trauma of the situation differently.

Prisoners

The general plot of this film frustrated me.  It was so slow to develop and reveal its cards.  I think the film in general could have been trimmed by at least 20 minutes, maybe even more.  And then the unknowns of the film could have been unveiled a little more quickly.  Plus, there is so much left open ended that I found it to be a little unsatisfying.  Some people will like this approach.  I do like it when a little is left open to interpretation, but not quite this much.  You’ll see what I’m talking about.  I was kind of hoping that we would at least know the who, what, where, and why at the end of this, but we’re not so fortunate.

My only other gripe about this movie—and this is one that’s probably just personal to me—is that I realized part way through that this was supposed to take place very close to where I live.  And yet I found little resemblance between what was portrayed on the film and my actual community.  The area on the film looked much more Northwest Pennsylvania or even Ohio.  It’s a little inauthentic, and something that the moviemakers could have done a better job with.

Prisoners is certainly an intriguing movie with a highly complex plot.  It may be a little overcomplicated and things were not fully reconciled to my satisfaction.  That said, it was still an interesting ride-along.

Thumbs mostly up.   

Prisoners

What He said:

He

How far would you be willing to go to save a loved one? That’s the question Prisoners asks. If you are anything like Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman), you are willing to go to extremes.

Keller is a carpenter, deeply religious man, and a prepper. There is nothing wrong with any of those things, but the latter two can lead to fanaticism, paranoia, and dangerous behavior when taken too far. That is exactly what happens when Keller’s daughter Anna and her friend are kidnapped.

Prisoners

It’s Thanksgiving and Keller and his family head over to their friend’s house for dinner. Keller has a wife (played by Maria Bello), teenaged son (Dylan Minette) , and their young daughter Anna (Erin Gerasimovich). The Birch family consists of the parents – Franklin and Nancy – their teenaged daughter (Zoe Borde), and youngest, Joy. After dinner, the adults are sitting around listening to music and having two drinks, the teenagers are in the basement watching TV, and the two youngest are playing outside. Unfortunately, this leads to their abduction.
Panic quickly sets in as all of the parents and remaining children begin combing the neighborhood for the girls. The teens remember a mysterious RV that was parked outside an abandoned house when they walked the girls back to the Dover’s house (Anna wanted something so she could play outside with Joy). Dover and his son Ralph frantically run to the location where the RV was last seen, but as you might have guessed it is gone. The Dover and Birch’s worst fears are confirmed.

A town-wide search begins almost immediately. The police of course are involved, but so are the families, especially Keller. Remember earlier how I mentioned him being very religious in addition to a doomsday prepper? Yeah, well things are about to get ugly.

Before it gets to that point though, the case is assigned to an officer named Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal). Loki (no relation to the god of mischief) might not look like much, but he’s a hot shot cop in this small town. He’s got a record for getting the job done. Within a few days he has a few different suspects.

One is the driver of the very same RV that was spotted by the children a few days before. His name is Alex Jones (Paul Dano) and apologies to those who get offended easily, but it’s hard not to judge a book by its cover when you see this guy.  AHe looks like a grade-A pervert. He’s even got those glasses that seems to be part of the uniform for creepy adult men.  
This is where things get tricky. It is without a doubt the same RV Ralph and Eliza (Franklin Birch’s teenage daughter) spotted when they were walking their little sisters to the Dover’s house. Additionally, Alex tries to make a break for it the second the cops spot him. He tries to make a break for it the second the police ask him to get out of the vehicle. Are those not the actions of a guilty man? The weird thing is they can’t find a single spec of forensic evidence in the RV and Jones doesn’t seem capable or intelligent enough to have pulled this off.

Even more bizarre is not one, but two more suspects surface. There are several people who could possibly be involved in the crime, but it’s difficult to say any of them are involved for sure. It’s one of those situations where you can definitely draw a connection to the crime, but it’s nothing totally conclusive.

In the meantime, Alex has been let go. With no concrete evidence connecting him to the missing girls and the conclusion that he’s mentally incapable of pulling orchestrating the crime, he’s returned to his Aunt Holly (Melissa Leo), who is his caretaker.

This doesn’t stop Keller from conducting his own investigation though. After following Alex for a while and – in his mind – concluding Alex is behind the abduction of his daughter and Joy, he kidnaps Alex and holds him hostage in an abandoned apartment complex he inherited from his father. Keller makes Joy’s father Franklin (Terrence Howard) aware of it and the two men  begin torturing Alex. Franklin is very uncomfortable with this. He doesn’t say anything to the police, but is not willing to go as far as Keller is to get their daughters back.

Prisoners

Meanwhile, Detective Loki is investigating all of the suspects in the case, one of which is now Keller himself. Loki notices that Keller has been sneaking around, keeping odd hours, etc., so he starts to follow him around town. Tension is running high, particularly as the hours turn into days.

Prisoners is a very tense, well-acted, and gripping thriller with lots of twists and turns that will keep you guessing throughout the movie. You know a movie is engaging when you find yourself asking questions out loud when watching it. Very much like Zodiac – also starring Jake Gyllenhaal – this one will keep you thinking long after you finish watching it. There are things revealed by the time the movie is all said and done, but there’s also a lot left open to interpretation. There are several parts of the movie that are left open to interpretation and I really liked that. Honest to God’s truth, I found myself thinking about this movie throughout the rest of the night. I kid you not, I’d wake up in the middle of the night and would think “It had to be so and so. No wait, it couldn’t have been” and then I’d fall back to sleep.

The movie is loaded with veteran actors and they all deliver. Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal lead the way as the determined detective and obsessed father. The things Jackman’s character does to Dano’s character will make you cringe, even if you find yourself believing he is guilty. Gyllenhaal was great as the quirky, but resolute cop, who will stop at nothing to find these two girls. Loki seems to have absolutely nothing going on in his life and will work until he drops if it means solving the case. He also has an interesting relationship with his boss. He’s easily the most dedicated detective in the precinct, but the two seem to have a history. They seem to hate one another and are always taking shots at one another. Maria Bello and Viola Davis both play distraught parents – but two very different kinds – very well. One simply dopes herself up while the other is much more angry about it. Paul Dano is also very good as the creepy suspect, Alex Jones. He absolutely nails the character. I felt icky just watching him on screen. Melissa Leo plays his aunt and caretaker and she quietly gives a good performance as well. She’s quite the chameleon. She is able to transform her look into several different types of characters.

The movie also examines issues like morality and vigilantism. You go back-and-forth between siding with Keller and thinking he’s completely insane. You understand why he does what he does. As someone who has a lot of problems with certain aspects of the legal system (cases like OJ and Casey Anthony come to mind), I can certainly understanding the motivation behind his actions. Alex really does seem to know the whereabouts of his daughter and the law does absolutely nothing about it. But the things he does to Alex will make you cringe. Even if you are someone who likes a good revenge story, you will find yourself feeling sorry for Alex at times.

I really liked this movie. I found it very engaging and compelling. I was on the edge of my seat once the case started to unravel and wanted more after it was over. I haven't heard much about it being nominated for any awards, but I think it's one of the better movies I've seen this year.

Rating: Thumbs up.

This movie review was written for your reading pleasure on December 24, 2013.

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