Prisoners

September 21, 2013 at 4:50 pm | Posted in 2013 | Leave a comment
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◊ ◊ ◊ ½

I was a big fan of director Denis Villeneuve’s last film, “Incendies” (you can see my review here).  As dark as that one was, I knew “Prisoners” was not going to be a light romp.  True to form, Villeneuve has created another harrowing tale.  This one involves two missing young girls, an out-of-control father and a possible suspect.  As you might imagine, things don’t go well.  Be warned, this film is disturbingly violent in parts, though most of the physical violence occurs off screen and we only see the aftermath of it.  The psychological violence is another matter; that is on full display throughout.  The film has a fine cast of actors including Viola Davis, Maria Bello, Terrence Howard and the brilliant Melissa Leo.  Paul Dano puts in another fine performance as the not-quite-there suspect; he manages to imbue a very passive character with no small amount of creepiness.   However, the film really revolves around Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal as the father and the investigating officer, respectively.  Jackman does a fine job but anger seems to be his go to emotion on screen (or perhaps I am just influenced by the fact that “Wolverine” is pretty much the only character I have seen him play).  I was more impressed during the moments when fear, worry and something close to regret were present.  I was actually more taken by Gyllenhaal’s performance as the twitchy, driven cop who seemed haunted by a back story we didn’t know but was none-the-less present in his performance.  I also loved the cinematography that was haunting at times, especially during a racing car scene through the snow.  The plot had twists and turns and, while the clues were all there, I never figured any of them out until a few moments before they were revealed (unlike “Incendies”).  I really like to be able to say, “Oh, I should have seen that coming but didn’t” and this film did that for me.  It was not without it’s flaws.  I was mostly disappointed that it did not wade into more morally ambivalent territory.  I had expected that and there was plenty of opportunity here but, in the end, I think the film makes it clear what we are supposed to think about all the characters and their actions.  I don’t imagine too many people debating with their friends about it afterwards.  Too bad; that lost opportunity would have made this a great film instead of just a really good thriller.

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