When the trailer for Prisoners appeared it looked like a solid thriller. The Oscar buzz which followed took me by surprise as there was nothing from the trailer to indicate that they would be making a run for gold.
I was always going to see Prisoners but the unexpected cries of brilliance from the cinema going public did pique my interest.
PLOT: Following a Thanksgiving meal Anna Dover (Erin Gerasimovich) and Joy Birch (Kyla Drew Simmons) go missing and the only clue to their whereabouts is an old R.V driven by Alex Jones, (Paul Dano) a mentally impaired young man. Anna’s father Keller (Hugh Jackman) loses patience with the investigation conducted by Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) and takes matters into his own hands in an attempt to find his daughter. END PLOT
A film that focuses on missing children should always be a tense affair however Prisoners only manages this in short bursts. The early scenes between Dover and Jones are genuinely nail-biting however they quickly peter out and leave us with a hanging plot thread that no one really knows what to do with. It is thereafter ignored completely.
Prisoners lasts for 2hours 33mins (IMDB) and although the film doesn’t feel slow the long running time does it no favours whatsoever. I figured out the whereabouts of the children very early on in the film. This made the investigation into the girls’ disappearance drag and I ended up watching Prisoners feeling more impatient that tense.
It did not help that the film resorted to glaringly obvious clichés such as “conveniently timed phone call” or the “desk tantrum that throws up a vital clue” to move the story along.
As I had figured out the culprit long before the characters it meant that I couldn’t get on-board with their actions. Detective Loki is probably the most incompetent police officer in history and Keller Dover’s actions became unnecessarily overdramatic.
There was no emotional engagement with Keller Dover as his actions were simply wrong. The film tries to raise the question – what would you be capable of doing to save your daughter – but it doesn’t do this well. Instead of seeing a grieving father desperate to find his child we see an obsessive man torturing a mentally disabled boy for a period of five days.
Viola Davis (Nancy Birch) and Terence Howard (Franklin Birch) fare much better in this regard. The Birches inner conflict and doubt has a much greater effect than Jackman’s emotional bullying tactics to encourage their involvement.
I will only acknowledge Maria Bello to say that I actively dislike her in all her endeavours.
Jake Gyllenhaal is as dependable as ever although Detective Loki is underwritten to the extent that his first name is Detective. Loki’s backstory is nothing more than a throwaway line about growing up in an orphanage with dodgy priests. It is probably a good thing that this little tit-bit of information was not explored as it would create a whole other movie. The constant blinking was incredibly distracting as it took me a while to realise that this was a character trait and not Gyllenhaal having the onset of glaucoma.
Paul Dano, Melisa Leo and David Dastmalchian all provide very capable support to an already stellar cast.
The performances can’t really be faulted. Jackman is as good as he has ever been and deserves the hype surrounding his performance. Prisoners is a good reminder that Jackman can and should be more than Wolverine.
If Jackman, Davis and Howard get award nominations they will be deserved as the cast carry the film. In lesser hands Prisoners would have passed by unnoticed and it would have been no great loss to cinema.
Prisoners is a decent film. The film looks good and the cast are excellent but it is grossly overhyped. Prisoners gets 7/10. It will be watched again if I can pick it up cheap on DVD but other than that Prisoners killed an afternoon in the cinema and nothing more.