Director Denis Villeneuve’s Prisoners is a dark, sombre thriller covering similar territory to Mystic River and Gone Baby Gone in that it deals with themes of child abduction, guilt and penance. Although it lacks the nuance and subtlety of those films, it proves a very gripping, effective piece of work.
When the daughters from two families go missing one rainy Thanksgiving, their fathers Keller (Hugh Jackman) and Franklin (Terrence Howard) are naturally determined to find them at all costs. Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) is the policeman charged with investigating the case and Alex (Paul Dano) is the prime suspect. Alex has an IQ of ten and no actual evidence links him to the crime, but Keller is convinced of his guilt and soon considers taking matters into his own hands.
Performances are strong, and technically the film works very well. Aaron Guzikowski’s screenplay is provocative and Roger Deakins’ cinematography is worth a special mention (as usual). I should perhaps add the usual warnings about swearing, violence, and a generally disturbing tone that some viewers may find, well, disturbing.
All things considered, Villeneuve has crafted an atmospheric, doom-laden, serious film that at least has something to say (if not necessarily anything very profound) about war-on-terror America. The allegories are clear enough, and I won’t detail them here for risk of spoilers. Prisoners is perhaps a bit of a blunt instrument at times, but in spite of overlength and implausibility towards the end, it is a well-acted, satisfying, significantly above average thriller.