Prisoners opens with a soft prayer from Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) giving us a good indication that faith is an integral theme that will run throughout. The opening acts as indication that theme, especially, is at the heart of Prisoners. Its even present in the title. Characters kidnap others and hold them in imprisonment for a variety of purposes. Perhaps not subtle or particularly thought provoking, Prisoners is still a sound and effective thriller, a showcase of great acting that at times seems like a cry for Oscar.
Take Jackman’s performance as a father on edge, willing to go to great lengths in an attempt to find his presumably captive daughter. There are moments with his character that should be emotionally jarring and captivating, but is sadly weighted down by incessant screaming, hollering, and outrage. Perhaps not far off from how many men would react in this situation. It would’ve been preferred to see him handle those moments with subtle and restrained intensity in replacement of the constant grimacing, weeping, and violent screaming (and sometimes acts of violence). The film still works well enough as an effective kidnapping thriller, although it’d been best to spend less time with Keller who takes up much of the film’s screen time.
Jake Gylennhall and his magnetic acting in Prisoners is the real star. Gylenhaal plays Detective Loki, who despite being cast in what is generally a throwaway roll, makes for the most interesting and pleasing acting I’ve seen all year. Loki is home to tattoos on his neck and hands and a rough demeanor. Gylenaall implements a simple yet effective tactic; a slight facial tick in which Loki blinks his eyes in a constant and intense manner. It looks involuntary, like rage and anxiety are boiling up, showing it’s colors in his eyes. Gylenhaal’s performance is consistent, ultra realistic, and forever compelling. In one scene, he interacts with the parents of the kidnapped children for the first time. Briefly, he checks out, looking at his phone, seemingly uninitiated with the grieving parents. Perhaps its familiarity with with these types of crimes. Familiarity breeds contempt as we’ve learned. Perhaps its another issue with Loki. We quickly learn upon first meeting him that he isn’t much of an approachable or sociable person. It’s layers like these that make a seemingly straightforward film open for repeat viewings. Unfortunately, Loki appears to be the only character that houses these attributes.
Prisoners is very often immaculately well crafted and utilizes a clever script. Each shot and movement is purposeful and deliberate. This can be credited to director Denis Villeneuve, who recognizes that his story demands a slower but purposeful aesthetic. There is very little soundtrack in Prisoners, only heightening the unsettling nature of the story and setting, which takes place in a cold, rainy Pittsburgh.
Not much can be said about Prisoners without spoiling the film. It is indeed an entertaining kidnapping film, but lacks covering any new ground.