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Review: Prisoners

Prisoners
Sep. 18, 2013by:
7 10


(read Chris Bumbray's review HERE)

PLOT: The father of a missing girl kidnaps and tortures the man he believes is responsible for her abduction while a detective doggedly investigates the case.

REVIEW: PRISONERS has a stranglehold on you in the moment; at any given time, it's as taut and gripping as can be hoped for. It is spectacularly made on a technical level and brilliantly acted by its entire cast. And it slowly comes apart as soon as you think about it. The many plot holes and contrivances don't stare you in the face until after you have a moment to breath and walk away from the experience; this isn't a deal-breaker because the film, directed by Denis Villeneuve, is so expertly crafted. But, for me, it falls short of greatness because it can't stand up to scrutiny.

The movie's first act is so very good. Set in a perpetually rainy Pennsylvania suburb during Thanksgiving, PRISONERS slowly unfolds a nightmare scenario with gloomy believability: two girls have gone missing, and their respective families are at a loss. A detective named Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) is assigned to the case, but there are few forthcoming leads. A beat-up RV was seen lurking around the neighborhood, but there's no guarantee it holds any secrets. The case seems to go frustratingly nowhere, until the police are led to Alex Jones (Paul Dano), the simple-minded owner of the RV who barely understands the world around him. If he has taken the girls, there's no evidence of it, and he is resolute - in his own childish way - that he has no idea what he's being accused of. The police have to let him go.

But one of the girls' fathers is not buying it. With a penchant for hunting and storing food, water and supplies in his basement in the name of "being prepared," Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) seems like just the man not to f*ck with, despite his gentle facade and family values. He's determined to find out what Alex knows, and soon after the suspect is released from custody, Keller takes it upon himself to kidnap the man-child and trap him in a rundown building, intent on torturing any information he can out of him. Meanwhile, Loki continues to investigate the kidnapping while keeping an eye on Keller, who is clearly near losing his mind.

PRISONERS boldly asks you early on to either embrace Keller's tactics or reject them. Though he seems like a man for whom rage isn't unheard of (there's mention of the fact that he gave up drinking years ago), Keller's violence wouldn't be unthinkable for most parents; who wouldn't do anything possible to save their child? But the calamity here is twofold: Alex, with his feeble understanding of the world, is almost a child himself. Plus, neither Keller nor we as an audience know for sure if Alex is guilty; indeed, almost all signs point away from him. How do we reconcile the actions of Keller, for all his earnest suffering, if he's not even focusing his attention in the right place?

Hand it to Villeneuve, and Warner Bros. for that matter: PRISONERS is allowed to take its time developing its mystery, ensconcing us in a very tangible pit of despair. At 2 hours and 26 minutes, PRISONERS is a deliberately constructed vice that tightens and loosens, tightens and loosens; we watch Keller do some terrible things to Alex, while we watch Detective Loki uncover some similarly gruesome evidence in his investigation. There is no shortage of pain in this movie, physical and emotional; Villeneuve brings us face-to-face with genuine anguish, more so than any Hollywood thriller has in years. The actors are so convincing in their trauma that they must have needed counseling after production wrapped. (Maria Bello, playing Jackman's wife, personifies parental horror as her character slips into an almost coma-like grief.)

So it's maddening trait of the movie's screenplay, by Aaron Guzikowski, to lag behind the extraordinary pack with some very ordinary plot machinations as it moves into the second half; red herrings are tossed our way with little consequence and clues eventually arrive in very convenient fashion. Worst of all, Guzikowski unveils that most unfortunate device of "the talking killer," which is when the bad guy, having been revealed, explains their dastardly deeds and helpfully fills in plot holes for no one other than the audience. It's a really deflating moment in PRISONERS, a movie that has strived for brutal realism throughout and mostly succeeded. The ultimate reasoning for the perpetrated crimes is also fairly opaque; I did not leave satisfied with this conclusion.

Nevertheless, PRISONERS is an impressive film to sit through, even if its running time is a bit on the lengthy side. Villenueve and the brilliant cinematographer Roger Deakins bathe this drama in a soggy atmosphere so potent you'll want a warm shower afterward. The mud, the rain-slicked roads, the glistening, leafless trees; it's all palpable. Jóhann Jóhannsson's melancholy score provides a funereal accompaniment to the dire action, while editors Joel Cox and Gary Roach (Clint Eastwood's editors, incidentally) allow the performances to shine without obtrusion. (Although they do orchestrate a handful of effective horror-movie jump scares.)

Jackman is fantastic, playing the tortured and vengeful sides of Keller with equal impact. His eyes bloodshot, his face a mask of weary hate; when someone offhandedly says to him "You look tired," boy, are they ever right. There isn't a single false note in his performance. Just as intense is Gyllenhaal, whose Loki is a humorless cop with crazy eyes and an angry streak that threatens to ruin the case just as much as Keller's does. Gyllenhaal has never played a "tough guy" very convincingly before (at least, not for me), but here he's quite an imposing screen presence; seemingly always rigid, single-minded and, underneath the bravado, quite lonely. (Loki has no friends, family or even acquaintances to speak of.) Bello, Viola Davis and Terrence Howard are thoroughly heart-breaking as the mournful parents, and Dano is alternately creepy and sympathetic as the man who may be evil, or may just be another innocent victim of the crime.

Source: JoBlo.com

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-18
10:58AM on 09/18/2013
I love how you have absolutely NO IDEA what you are talking about in your review. K, Thanks for nothing.
I love how you have absolutely NO IDEA what you are talking about in your review. K, Thanks for nothing.
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1:50PM on 09/18/2013
I love your sad attempt at trolling this well-written review. K, thanks for nothing.
I love your sad attempt at trolling this well-written review. K, thanks for nothing.
11:55AM on 09/18/2013
People who just write the letter K when trying to say ok just bother me for some reason.
People who just write the letter K when trying to say ok just bother me for some reason.
11:51AM on 09/18/2013
On the contrary, slick, that's about as good of a review as one could hope for, and I'm not referring to the overall score out of 10 that the reviewer gave it.

I mean telling us all he does, in the manner he does, yet without actually including any specific details that could be construed as spoilers. Sure, there was the inclusion of a couple of specific elements that are utilized throughout the course of the film that I certainly could've done without... But ya, you pretty much have no clue
On the contrary, slick, that's about as good of a review as one could hope for, and I'm not referring to the overall score out of 10 that the reviewer gave it.

I mean telling us all he does, in the manner he does, yet without actually including any specific details that could be construed as spoilers. Sure, there was the inclusion of a couple of specific elements that are utilized throughout the course of the film that I certainly could've done without... But ya, you pretty much have no clue what you're talking about LOL!
11:49AM on 09/18/2013
K, thanks for your unbelievably helpful feedback. Food for thought!
K, thanks for your unbelievably helpful feedback. Food for thought!
11:09AM on 09/18/2013
What are you talking about?
What are you talking about?
11:20AM on 09/18/2013
I thought this was a pretty good film. There are several plants and payoffs that might be too blatant to some viewers; points of plot which are laid down in full view so they can be picked up on again later. The masterful construction of the piece isnt undermined though and from its haunting atmospherics (Deakins' cinematography and Jhannsson's score, as well as the editing) to its powerhouse lead performances, I think it's very much a success. I was surprised to read a 10 out of 10 score
I thought this was a pretty good film. There are several plants and payoffs that might be too blatant to some viewers; points of plot which are laid down in full view so they can be picked up on again later. The masterful construction of the piece isnt undermined though and from its haunting atmospherics (Deakins' cinematography and Jhannsson's score, as well as the editing) to its powerhouse lead performances, I think it's very much a success. I was surprised to read a 10 out of 10 score from Chris Bumbray when he reviewed it at TIFF and it is interesting to read a differing view in this review; I'd put it at about an 8.
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11:33AM on 09/18/2013
Cannot. Wait. To. See. This!
Cannot. Wait. To. See. This!
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11:53AM on 09/18/2013
This movie is going to be sooooo good.
This movie is going to be sooooo good.
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12:08PM on 09/18/2013
Someone went a bit too far when they decided to kidnap Jackman's kids to stop him singing in more movies.
Someone went a bit too far when they decided to kidnap Jackman's kids to stop him singing in more movies.
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12:23PM on 09/18/2013
One thought with this review. You start off saying it's a well-made movie full of plot-holes. And then you go on to talk about how good it is for the next paragraph. I think that if you saved any mention of the flaws until the third paragraph it would have worked better as a review. By saying up-front that it's less than perfect, it feels like you're specifically addressing Bumbray's glowing review from TIFF. Fine that you don't agree with him, but a critic is supposed to simply offer up their
One thought with this review. You start off saying it's a well-made movie full of plot-holes. And then you go on to talk about how good it is for the next paragraph. I think that if you saved any mention of the flaws until the third paragraph it would have worked better as a review. By saying up-front that it's less than perfect, it feels like you're specifically addressing Bumbray's glowing review from TIFF. Fine that you don't agree with him, but a critic is supposed to simply offer up their opinion and the only time it works for me for a critic to react to another's review in their review (however subtle the reaction) is when they actually enjoyed a movie another critic panned.

Otherwise, this is one of your stronger reviews in my opinion, because you are so specific about what works and what doesn't without really spoiling anything.
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3:51PM on 09/18/2013
Thanks for the input. I honestly did not read Chris' review beforehand, however, so I'm not addressing his review at all.
Thanks for the input. I honestly did not read Chris' review beforehand, however, so I'm not addressing his review at all.
+7
2:05PM on 09/18/2013

Wait, what???

So someone has kidnapped Wolverine's daughter and only Loki can solve the crime? Talk about mixing your genres.....

This does look great. The trailers are thoroughly chilling.
So someone has kidnapped Wolverine's daughter and only Loki can solve the crime? Talk about mixing your genres.....

This does look great. The trailers are thoroughly chilling.
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+3
2:50PM on 09/18/2013
So looking forward to this. Bumbray gave this a 10, and now we have a 7, so overall this is going to be a great movie. Hope it gets some recognition come Oscar time, tired of seeing the same old actors/actresses nominated for the same awards each year. Nice review, thanks for keeping it obscure.
So looking forward to this. Bumbray gave this a 10, and now we have a 7, so overall this is going to be a great movie. Hope it gets some recognition come Oscar time, tired of seeing the same old actors/actresses nominated for the same awards each year. Nice review, thanks for keeping it obscure.
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10:28AM on 09/19/2013

Looks good

I had my reservations about seeing this but after reading this I think it's definitely worth a shot.
I had my reservations about seeing this but after reading this I think it's definitely worth a shot.
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-8
4:58PM on 09/20/2013

ok wait a second.....

The movie looks good just from the described plot and the actors....but how did the two reviews on JOBLO come to such different numbers....7 and a perfect 10??? wth is that? there is too big of a gap there to justify. Yes, opinions differ but reviewers are supposed to have the general consensus in mind when doing a review or have the taste of the 'general consensus' or whatever the hell that is.....just too big of a gap there fellas......might as well always say why one of you HATED a movie and
The movie looks good just from the described plot and the actors....but how did the two reviews on JOBLO come to such different numbers....7 and a perfect 10??? wth is that? there is too big of a gap there to justify. Yes, opinions differ but reviewers are supposed to have the general consensus in mind when doing a review or have the taste of the 'general consensus' or whatever the hell that is.....just too big of a gap there fellas......might as well always say why one of you HATED a movie and one of you LOVED it.....and just go from there. C'mon fellas, which is closer to best review, a perfect 10 or a decent 7???
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8:12PM on 09/20/2013
Not necessarily--everyone sees things differently and appreciates different movies. In my opinion, Prisoners is closer to the 10 than the 7, but both are equally valid reviews from people with equally valid perspectives. A critic isn't supposed to go with what he or she believes the "general consensus" to be. They're just supposed to be honest.
Not necessarily--everyone sees things differently and appreciates different movies. In my opinion, Prisoners is closer to the 10 than the 7, but both are equally valid reviews from people with equally valid perspectives. A critic isn't supposed to go with what he or she believes the "general consensus" to be. They're just supposed to be honest.
-1
5:00PM on 09/20/2013
and just to clarify....Plus One is just as good as this movie?? oh and Blue Caprice is better??......I rest my case.......on the desk next to my desktop computer....hence its on a desk, with my case
and just to clarify....Plus One is just as good as this movie?? oh and Blue Caprice is better??......I rest my case.......on the desk next to my desktop computer....hence its on a desk, with my case
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1:11AM on 09/28/2013
What are the plot-holes? Just curious. I was waiting for you to delve into them, but it never fermented.
What are the plot-holes? Just curious. I was waiting for you to delve into them, but it never fermented.
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4:35PM on 09/30/2013

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