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Movie Reviews






Released: 2013

Directed By: Denis Villenueve

Starring: Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal

Certificate: 15

Reviewed By: Darryl Griffiths

With his previous critically lauded effort ‘Incendies’, it was the ‘abandonment’ of a maternal figure that propelled the Middle East-based familial mystery of its narrative. Staying loyal to such themes, Denis Villeneuve assembles an impeccable cast to make his English-language debut. With ‘Prisoners’, we see the Oscar-nominated director dealing with a different yet no less horrific form of ‘loss’, whilst holding a mirror up to an increasingly cynical American society and its fractured relationship with the authoritarians whose sole purpose is to protect and serve.

Living by the mantra of ‘hope for the best, prepare for the worst’, Hugh Jackman’s Keller Dover is a reformed figure heavily reliant on the instilment of faith and the love of his tight-knit family (Maria Bello’s Gracie playing his on-screen wife). The latter inevitably epitomised by a celebratory Thanksgiving get-together with down to earth neighbours Nancy and Franklin Birch (Viola Davis and Terrence Howard respectively).

The pleasantries of the occasion however are soon replaced with a stifling sense of dread, as it becomes fatefully apparent their daughters Anna and Joy have disappeared. With only a suspiciously parked RV seemingly owned by peculiar glasses-wearer Alex Jones (Paul Dano) fuelling the case, it is left to highly regarded Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) to head up the investigation into their children’s suspected abduction. Cue a frantic search and the course of our protagonists’ moral compasses to waver..

Working from a grim rain-drenched visual palette, Villeneuve’s taut direction coupled with Roger Deakins’ stunning realisation of its ‘clouded’ setting compliments the intensity and confinement to the near helpless plight, faced by its protagonists. Heavily reliant on tight framing, Villeneuve’s methodical capturing of a sequence from the proverbial ‘four walls’ as he shifts from mid-shot to rear-view, along with the visual motif of mazes proves an effective nod to the sense of imprisonment that is channelled in different forms here.

For Keller Dover, it’s the emasculation of being physically unable to alter the situation whilst abiding by the rules of the law, that ‘arrests’ his wellbeing. Continuing to prove his dramatic chops, Hugh Jackman is on ferocious form and utterly riveting as the tortured father figure desperate to take matters into his own hands. Whilst for Detective Loki, it’s the obsessive and compulsive need to solve a case and not tarnish his exemplary record, that consumes him. In a role that arguably is an ideal companion piece to his performance in David Fincher’s Zodiac, Jake Gyllenhaal delivers a career-best turn with his measured demeanour and nervy twitch juxtaposing perfectly with the unnerving emotional consumption of Jackman’s Keller.

Elsewhere, its female characters may have less room to manoeuvre within the film’s finely tuned narrative structure yet prove effective, with Maria Bello and Viola Davis making lasting impressions as the traumatised mothers. Taking a backseat to Jackman’s questionable methods, Terrence Howard is nonetheless solid as Joy’s father Franklin whilst Paul Dano’s impressive portrayal as social recluse Alex is an unsettling presence.

The impactful final act may slip into more generic territory with Villeneuve opting for a ‘race against time’ approach, yet ultimately doesn’t tarnish what precedes it. ‘Prisoners’ is an emotionally gruelling yet utterly compelling piece of cinema, that expertly holds you in its vice grip throughout its 2 hour 30 minute runtime, whilst disturbingly tapping into our own psyches to beg the question..

Just how far would we go to save a loved one?

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