Friday, March 21, 2014


Movie Review : Prisoners
Director : Denis Villeneuve
Genre : Thriller
Starring : Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Maria Bello, Viola Davis, Paul Dano
Released : September 2013
My Rating : 8 out of 10

Hollywood has produced many movies about abductions, especially about child abductions. Like most Hollywood movies, such thrillers are often formulaic. In spite of some notable exceptions like “Changeling”, it’s natural to ask, what can a new movie do to stand out? Watch “Prisoners” and you will know the answer.

The movie starts with two families meeting for a Thanksgiving dinner. After the dinner, their two young girls go out to play without telling their parents. When the girls do not come back, and are not found after a search by the family members, they call police. A suspicious van was seen parked in the neighborhood. With that as the only clue, police search for the van. When it is located, the driver seems to be a mentally unstable person. He is arrested, but there is no sign of girls or any indication that he was involved. Without further evidence, the police have no choice but to release him, in spite of the parents strongly protesting against it.

The movie takes a unique turn after this, which I would prefer to not reveal, even though the trailers might have given it away. Of course there is the mystery of what happened to the girls, and who did it. I think many viewers are going to guess it early and correctly. That definitely is a flaw in the script.

The strength of the script is in its ability to force us to take sides, to make assumptions, to associate guilt and to question ourselves, what’s right and what’s wrong. The characters are complex, sometimes we empathize with them, sometimes we find them irrational. There are hardly any coincidences, and there are no weird twists. But there are mistakes and there are lucky breaks. It feels like a true detective story, with many moral dilemmas.

The cast is impressive. Hugh Jackman, perhaps the highest profile actor among them, gives a very believable and strong performance as Keller Dover, father of one of the missing girls. Jake Gyllenhaal gives yet another wonderful performance as Detective Loki. He definitely has a knack for choosing roles, this is so different than Source Code and Proof.  Viola Davis, as Nancy Birch, mother of a missing girl has a short role, like she had in Doubt, and shines here as well. Another good actress who shines in a short role is Melissa Leo (Frozen River). Everyone else does a tremendous supporting job as well, not a single performance is weak.

This is an English language debut movie for director Denis Villeneuve. He has kept the movie sincere as well as taut. It felt a bit longer than needed to me, but it’s always gripping.

The movie makes for an uncomfortable viewing, but not because of blood and gore. The topic is unsettling, and the past revealed by the story is tragic as can be expected. With that note, I highly recommend it. It will make you feel, and make you think. It goes without saying that this movie is not for kids.

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