Prisoners Review

poster from the Warner Bros. Pictures film Prisoners

Serious dramas don’t make it through to my theater very often. We’re usually brimming over with dopey kids movies, meatheaded action franchises, and dumb comedies and there’s no room for anything intelligent. So when I heard that we were getting Prisoners on its opening weekend, I had to go. Me and about half of my town, because not only was it a serious drama, it looked like a GOOD serious drama.

A distraught father takes things into his own hands when he feels like the police aren’t doing enough to recover his missing daughter and her friend.

I watch a lot of Criminal Minds and CSI and other murder shows, so you can trust me when I tell you that this is a good one. It’s well-acted, well-written, and while I did figure out some of its secrets well in advance of the characters, there were a few crucial things that I missed which made it riveting all the way to the end.

We begin with a thanksgiving meal. Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman), a struggling handyman and disaster prepper who (conveniently) owns a condemned apartment building brings his wife Grace (Maria Bello) and kids Ralph (Dylan Minette) and Anna (Erin Gerasimovich) to have dinner with another family that’s basically a mirror image of theirs: father Frank (Terrence Howard), mother Nancy (Viola Davis), teen Eliza (Zoe Borde) and little girl Joy (Kyla Drew Simmonds).

family goes to dinner from the Warner Bros. Pictures film Prisoners

La la la, we’re just so HAPPY.

Though Prisoners takes place in the present, the lack of modernity in the movie makes it seem like it’s set in the 80s. Also giving the movie a retro feel: the fact that the two young daughters, Anna and Joy have none of the stranger danger sense that has been pounded into today’s children. They think nothing of climbing all over a strange RV parked in their neighborhood, which has predictable consequences.

Loki interviews the Birches

W-we should have m-made sure they were t-terrified to leave the house *sniff*

After the girls go missing, the ridiculously named, hilariously over-buttoned Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) turns up to take over the case. He’s twitchy, he swears a lot, he has a lot of tattoos for no apparent reason, and he needs to either unbutton his top button or put on a tie. But he’s never left a case unsolved. That’s not enough for Keller, who’s beating up himself and everyone around him for failing to protect his daughter.

Jake Gyllenhaal and Hugh Jackman from the Warner Bros. Pictures film Prisoners

Look, I know I never managed to find my tie, but I’m sure that won’t happen with your kid.

Loki quickly locates the RV and its driver, a dopey young adult named Alex (Paul Dano) who has the IQ of a ten year old. Loki, being the world’s worst interrogator, fails to get anything out of him and the police have to let him go.

Loki interrogates Alex from the Warner Bros. Pictures film Prisoners

I’m sorry, is my gun poking you inappropriately? Perhaps you would like to take it from me.

As soon as Alex is released, Keller snatches him off the street in the middle of the night like the angel of death and locks him away in his convenient sketchy apartment building until the kid agrees to talk.

Hugh Jackman and Paul Dano from the Warner Bros. Pictures film Prisoners

Hello, special needs boy! Can I have a word?

At this point, Prisoners effectively becomes two stories. One story follows the struggles of Keller and the other parents – except Grace, who effectively dopes herself out of the movie as soon as Anna goes missing.

Maria Bello from the Warner Bros. Pictures film Prisoners

Oh my God, it’s full of stars…

Keller, Frank, and Nancy discover just how far they’re willing to go to get their kids back, and it can be pretty disturbing, but not quite Zero Dark Thirty disturbing. Personally, I found this the less interesting of the two because it doesn’t add as much to the investigation.

Viola Davis, Terrence Howard, and Hugh Jackman from the Warner Bros. Pictures film Prisoners

So what do you think we should use next – hot oil or the rack?

The second story – the one I like – follows Detective Loki as he knocks on doors and kicks in heads trying to turn up leads. It’s a classic cop story, free of all those ridiculous 10 minute DNA tests that drag down the credulity of modern investigation shows. I’m not saying it’s completely believable, though, because at various points in the movie he acts like a one-man judge, police force, and ambulance service. He also seems to be the only person on the force who can put two and two together, and even then he was about an hour behind me in a lot of places.

Loki stares at the maze from the Warner Bros. Pictures film Prisoners

What? The audience recognized this symbol half an hour ago??

At least he went to the common sense school of confronting suspicious people, though. He’s got his gun out in front of him and his eyes peeled, unlike Keller, who seems to think that the best thing to do would be to walk into a room with his weapons sealed away and turn his back on the sketchy person for a good minute, no doubt so the director can get both of their faces in shot.

Jake Gyllenhaal from the Warner Bros. Pictures film Prisoners

Get your f*cking hands up!

Hugh Jackman from the Warner Bros. Pictures film Prisoners

Please feel free to assault me while my back is turned.

The ending is also lazy. It’s become a thing for lower budget films to skip over the wrapping-things-up scenes at the end. Once they feel like they’ve made it clear how things are going to end, they just stop and flash the title of the film on the screen instead of spending the money to shoot the scenes that actually give the audience closure. It’s not a WHAT?! moment that ruins the whole movie for you, but it is worth an ‘oh come on!’

prisoners ending from the Warner Bros. Pictures film Prisoners

Despite these little hitches, the movie is riveting. Partly because it’s not really clear until the very end what the hell’s going on or what happened to the girls. And partly because it’s either overcast or pouring down rain for the entire length of the film, which creates a gloomy atmosphere. Aesthetically it reminds me a lot of the X-Files and plot-wise it’s like a giant episode of Criminal Minds, which are two of my favorite shows.

Loki approaches the caravan from the Warner Bros. Pictures film Prisoners

Hotch! It’s the flukeman! Run!

So should you see Prisoners? Hell yeah, especially if you’re into any police or investigation shows or books. This movie makes me want to run off and look up all the Michael Connelly books I haven’t read yet just to recapture that same feeling of ‘OMG! What’s going to happen? Who was it? Where are they?’

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