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Mon September 23, 2013
Director: Denis Villeneuve (Incendies)
Screenplay: Aaron Guzikowski (Contraband)
Cast: Hugh Jackman (Les Miserables), Jake Gyllenhaal
Runtime: 153 min.
by John DeSando
“Be prepared for the worst, but hope for the best.” Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman)
So you think someone can replicate the sinister Silence of the Lambs and the melodramatic Mystic River; well no one can because they are grand thrillers, fraught with suspense and depravity and peppered with audience desire for revenge.
Prisoners is not pop-culturally as memorable as those chestnuts, but it is thrilling and complex like the crimes themselves. There’s macabre fun if you don’t demand all the holes be filled. Relax and see a good if not great detective story.
Revenge in thrillers, from Death Wish to Zero Dark Thirty ignites American audiences, perhaps from the uncertainty that they can handle all the bad guys around the world. Whatever, Prisoners gives nothing new except sterling performances from Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal (both should have Oscar nominations) and noirish cinematography from the grandmaster, Roger Deakins.
Conyers, Pennsylvania’s, Keller Dover and Franklin Birch (Terrence Howard) search for their abducted daughters, while police detective Loki (Gyllenhaal) does the footwork necessary to find them while the fathers vilify him for going too slowly. In that tension rests the film’s best thematic gravity: How far will you go to find the abductor of your child? Writer Aaron Guzikowski’s literary ambitions about theme are on the side of heavy handed (the symbology of the opening hunting scene and Loki’s constantly blinking eyes—not seeing clearly, anyone?— are overripe).
However, the dialogue is crisp and the scene shifts are expertly timed to keep us from asking too many logistical questions.
The plot twists are not as bad as some might think, and the moral ambiguity where the ends justify the means is as much about the limitations of the judicial system as it is about unadorned vengeance: The audience is torn as they consider the morality of the fathers’ actions. Who’s to judge? Not I.
John DeSando co-hosts WCBE 90.5’s It’s Movie Time and Cinema Classics, which can be heard streaming and on-demand at WCBE.org. Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.rr.com