Jackman and Gyllenhaal on an urgent search…

“He’s not a person any more,” Hugh Jackman’s God-fearing survivalist intones at the midway point of Denis Villeneuve’s (Incendies) draining English-language debut, in reference to a man (Paul Dano) whom he believes has kidnapped his daughter. The line, steeped in emotion, if a touch heavy-handed, sums up the strength of Aaron Guzikowski’s script.

Operating in the same slate-gray neo-noir space as David Fincher’s Se7en and Zodiac, Prisoners braids a grand tale of sin and possible redemption with a knotty, intelligently plotted investigative thriller.

Jackman’s Keller Dover, a rugged type who prides himself on preparation, is blindsided when his daughter vanishes along with the child of a neighboring couple (Terrence Howard and Viola Davis). Driven to desperation by grief and the indignity of helplessness, Dover takes matters into his own hands after the police, led by Jake Gyllenhaal’s composed Detective Loki, fail to keep suspect Alex (Dano) in custody.

Giving a performance that makes Wolverine look positively cuddly, Jackman refuses to court sympathy even for a second, all rough edges and hair-trigger anger.

Gyllenhaal, meanwhile, delivers some of his most impressive work. As Loki begins to unravel a malignant web of local mystery, his increasingly haunted gaze becomes one of Prisoners’ defining images. Though he butts heads with Dover in scenes that range from expository to shattering, you sense the poised Loki is nursing his own demons.

The supporting roles are patchier; as Dover’s wife, Maria Bello is given little to do but weep, while Howard and Davis are too scarcely used. Dano, creepy and doe-eyed, fares better, as does Melissa Leo as his stoical aunt. It’s troubling that Dano’s Alex tends towards the effeminate, where Jackman and Gyllenhaal are both different shades of alpha male, but the moral lines are blurred enough for this not to rankle.

For a first-time Hollywood director, Villeneuve has a scrupulous grasp on small-town America, building a level of tension that starts out unbearable and only worsens. As torrential sheets of rain fall in grand noir tradition, Roger Deakins’ cinematography bleeds dread into every frame, the muted colour palette of blues and metals as pitiless as Guzikowski’s script.


A simmering pressure cooker of a thriller, Prisoners is an unforgiving but emotionally rewarding experience sustained by powerhouse performances, taut scripting and Villeneuve’s tonally assured direction.

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Film Details

User Reviews

    • FBJBottomley

      Sep 24th 2013, 22:14


      Prisoners is certainly not for the faint hearted or those wanting uplifting entertainment but it is an edge-of-seat abduction Thriller. The atmosphere echoes of haunting depression and the cast are deep in their roles. Look at it closely and you may find a few holes in this twisty narrative, look again and some were actually explained. Complex, human and aggressive Prisoners is a great film that ends (for once) welcomingly ambiguous.

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    • paulrobinson

      Sep 30th 2013, 17:38


      SPOILERS AHEAD! I can see why people love this film, but the problem with Prisoners is the mind-boggling incompetence of the police. SPOILER ALERT Main suspect Alex is released and attacked outside police station by Keller, who later kidnaps Alex, but somehow avoids being number one suspect when Alex is reported missing. Duh! MAJOR SPOILER The child kidnapper and killer's house of the last twenty years is revealed, yet the forensic team try digging in the frozen garden for bodies yet fail to spot a nearby car covering a gaping hole with a live person in it blowing a whistle! And then they switch off the generator and go home? No way! We also discover Alex was himself kidnapped twenty years before at the age of six and yet when he appears in the paper, nobody recognizes him, not the police nor his own mother, who's been watching a video of him every day since he went missing. He even has a driving licence and goes out walking a dog, yet nobody can join any dots, apart from the audience watching.

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    • dex2010

      Oct 9th 2013, 17:01


      Film of the year so far! Tense, Edge of your seat movie that keeps you guessing. Yes it's grim and hard to watch in places but it's engaging and has some of the best performances in 2013. Deserves to be up for oscars.

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    • matthewbrady

      Oct 17th 2013, 21:57


      Edge of your seat movie and the movie makes you feel dirty inside.

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    • Scotty1

      Oct 23rd 2013, 13:18


      As a father I walked into this movie having seen the trailer and known what was coming (a little girl is abducted, her dad loses it, Close Ones learn who they really are under true stress) but I was still resisting because these kind of films scar me now that I have children of my own. Then again, this is a ‘Hollywood’ child abduction movie so I’m kind of guaranteed a happy ending aren’t I? One which will undoubtedly en route keep me on the edge of my seat and pull at my paternal pain threshold? Well it did but the ending could have been ‘happier’… but more on that later. Setting the scene with the murkiest of backwater towns on celluloid in quite awhile, DOP Roger Deakins does what he says on his label and photographs the gloom and doom of the situation and the geography so it hangs in the air throughout the running time- spooky good. No time is wasted before Hugh Jackman’s and Terence Howard’s daughters are missing (apart from a neat little off the cuff sentence/exposition setting up a deserted location which Hugh will need later) and at this point you can almost audibly hear Mr Howard’s agent promise Terence that he’ll find him a more macho part in his next film and just take the cash on this one and play the ‘doe-eyed, sniveling dad’. The reason? Because here comes Wolverine for Christ’s Sakes! Alright Jackman’s Keller Dover hasn’t got claws and he’s not chewing on stogies every two minutes but he has got a mullet of a tough-lookin’ goatee and he is chewing on the scenery with wanton abandon! I’m a huge fan of Hugh’s- I have been since he burnt a hole in the cinema screen back in 2000 with ‘X-Men’ and I have followed his career with joy- he is an all-rounder, there’s nothing he can’t do I think and normally you would hate such a bloody winner like that but not with Hugh, as whether he knows it or not (or he’s packaged that way by his ‘people’) he just has that ‘I’m just lucky to be here mate’ antipodean charm. The nicest bloke in Hollywood TM. But in this film is he trying to bring a deeper gravitas to a role which will live with us long after the last jagged shell of popcorn has been picked from our collective molars? Will he use his industry weight to make it a movie that resonates through the ages? A little while into the proceedings Hugh gets hold of prime suspect Paul Dano (no one does young misunderstood loner/loser/leech better than Dano, I know from his career that he’s talented enough to do anything but clearly he’s only being offered the same part by the powers eternal) and takes him to a ‘deserted location’ where he tortures him to ascertain the whereabouts of his daughter. Okay, ‘fair enough’ you say, I would do the same. He brings in Terence (take the money Tel, it’ll all be over soon) who panics a bit and plays the 1% of the audience who wouldn’t beat the s**t/truth out of a man who whispered to Hugh “she only started crying when I left her” (or is that just me?) and Hugh gives Paul a few good jabs but starts to think he’s going to far (on screen that is) to hammer Paul’s fingers to mush, hmmm… ‘I’ll scold you with the boiler later though mate- don’t think you got off lightly’ (again, just off screen). The side of ‘justice’ is portrayed by the biggest puppy dog eyes in the (show) business- Mr Jake Gyllenhaal. He’s a great actor and again, seriously, I enjoy all his stuff- he never just ‘turns’ up for a movie, he cares about it and brings ‘a bit that doesn’t fit’ every time- something quirky and interesting enough to make you wonder what’s under his characters skin. Well, he doesn’t disappoint because in his Detective Loki (move over Tom Hiddleston, this character name can be used more than once you know- so there!) there are demons who obviously drive him (and the plot). He’s got quirky tattoos here and there, a blinking eye disorder (which I joined him in during a speeding car scene later on- excellent). He’s also never not solved a case and he doesn’t need a partner, classic lone-wolf copper and nearly forgot, he gets to tell his burnt out 9 to 5 captain to ‘go f**k himself’ whenever he feel like it. So in retrospect I think the blink is to make him more human to us and not let us realize too early that he’s Dirty Donnie Darko Harry. Now Harry, sorry Jake and Logan, sorry- Hugh start locking heads and have a little cat and mouse while time ticks on and Hugh’s daughter has been missing more and more days. And even though I’ve been pretty sarcastic up ‘til now I’m really worrying because a) I am a father and b) this film is tantalizingly setting itself up to be one to remember outside of the norm glossy ending- think Russ Crowe whistling (ironic in ‘Prisoner’s case) for his horse destroying the ultimate sacrifice Chris Bale just made in the last reel of “3:10 to Yuma” as opposed to Gwynnie’s head in that box in “Se7en” which Stays. With. You. For. Ever. In the meantime the rest of the very talented (mis)cast play against type as pretty useless wives (Mario Bello must have the same agent as Terrence, at least Viola Davis gets involved) and all to a man stay out of the way of Hugh which is a shame as it doesn’t ring true in a true life scenario but there’s only so many minutes to tell a story I suppose and that’s for Hugh and Jake to drive (also I must say at no point did I believe Jake was remotely Hugh’s physical equal, I was genuinely scared for Jake at a couple of points when Wolvie approached him- Hugh needed a Russ or a Pete Mullan to balance the tide) to its neat twist finale which kind of gave moral get out of jail card’s to some and with a few handy coincidences saved the proverbial for others. Let me also make clear at no point did I want or expect anything fatal to happen to the children just to make a film a bit different… but there were other characters who could have ended up differently to set the experience bar higher. So it’s a finale that’s satisfying but could have been that cut (Gwynnie’s head) above if a certain characters fate had not been left so wide openly obvious happily ever after. Gone another way it would have been a gut punch that you reeled from the multiplex thinking long and hard about but unfortunately Hollywood came to the rescue. Prisoners 3/5 … Note to Hollywood – Peter Mullan takes on Hugh next time.

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