Prisoners (2013)

DENIS VILLENEUVE

Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5SA, 2013, , Screenplay by Cinematography by Produced by , , , Music by Production Design by Costume Design by Film Editing by , Academy Awards 2013Toronto International Film Festival 2013.

Hugh Jackman and Paul Dano in Prisoners.

A routine Thanksgiving turns into a horrific nightmare when the two youngest daughters of the two families who have gotten together for the holiday go missing before the evening has ended. The only clue to their disappearance that seems even remotely substantial is that, some time before the girls vanished, they and their older siblings noticed an unfamiliar recreational vehicle parked outside an empty house on their street, and now it is no longer there. Parents , , and are frantic and contact the police, who assign (who is better at pulling off his character’s toughness with his acting than with his neck tattoos, though neither are a home run) to the case. He pulls in his first suspect, the driver of the vehicle, a mentally challenged young man () who reveals nothing about the crime.  When he is released due to lack of evidence, the furious Jackman is incensed at the injustice, convinced of the man’s guilt and critical of the investigation despite the fact that Gyllenhaal is still out on the street trying to solve this increasingly odd mystery.  Jackman, meanwhile, kidnaps Dano and holds him in an abandoned building where he tortures him, thinking that he will eventually find out where his and his friend’s daughter is; as the generously lengthy plotting progresses, evidence piles up and tension mounts towards a harrowing conclusion that lets no one off easy. Roger Deakins’ beautiful cinematography is somewhat emblematic of the tone of this entire film, calling attention to its own brilliance with carefully designed pools of shadow and light in just about every shot. Aaron Guzikowski’s screenplay drops just enough conflicting clues throughout scenes to make your wheels spin and wonder just how it’s going to turn out, and it’s for this reason that it works despite the fact that it really shouldn’t.  It’s obviously meant to accompany its bewitching narrative with the presence of Grand Themes, the fact that we mistake our emotions for facts, for instance, or that our feelings of other people’s guilt is limited by our own perspective, or that we never know how frail our morals are until our fears are pushed to the extreme, and that what we do unto others we do unto ourselves. As a treatise on American society and the failings of human nature, it falters in comparison with its value as invigorating melodrama: Jackman’s character isn’t a complicated portrait of morality, both the actor and director Denis Villeneuve push hard on white trash stereotypes and clearly judge him and his actions, but the knots that the plot ties are plentiful and you’re damned if you’re not going to see the whole thing through to the end.

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