I remember when Prisoners came out right near the end of my summer vacation. My mom and I wanted to see a movie and the choices were between it and Blue Jasmine. The 153 minute runtime was a bit daunting for us, so we went for the latter. Meanwhile, this movie did pretty well at the box-office and got rave reviews, which is odd considering I vaguely recall any sort of marketing campaign. It came out on DVD and it still passed under my radar. So, today when I was at Best Buy picking up The Wolf of Wall Street, I saw it on sale for $15 on Blu Ray. I picked it up on a whim and went home and watched it.
This is by far one of the best movies of 2013.
I mean where do I begin? I sincerely regret not seeing this in theaters when I had the chance. Hugh Jackman plays Keller Dover, a devoutly religious man who married to Grace, played by Maria Bello. They have two kids, Ralph and Anna, and one Thanksgiving Day, they go to their friends the Birch’s for dinner. Nancy and Franklin Birch, played by Viola Davis and Terrance Howard respectively, have two kids right around the same ages as the Dover’s, named Eliza and Joy. Anna and Joy, the two youngest girls, suddenly disappear after leaving the house that afternoon. All suspicions point to an RV driven by Alex Jones, played exceptionally by Paul Dano, but when no hard evidence is found, he is set loose. Keller is convinced that Jones took the girls, and resorts to extreme measures in order to find out the truth. He kidnaps Jones and locks him in an apartment and proceeds to torture him over several days.
On the law enforcement side of things, Detective Loki, played by Jake Gyllenhaal, spearheads the investigation chasing down leads and trying to find a new suspect. Tensions become elevated between him and Keller after no new suspects have been found, and Loki begins to gain suspicions about Keller, which leads him to follow him rather than looking for new clues. What follows is a finely crafted tale of loss and what we find ourselves capable of doing when we lose the ones we love.
Jackman gives a phenomenal performance of a man driven to the edge of his beliefs, a man who will stop at nothing in order to find his daughter. Just like he questions his faith and morals, we too do not know how we are supposed to feel about his method of extracting information. He is so convinced that Jones took his daughter that we as the audience support him. But when he begins to torture Jones, we are left to question our ethics behind his choices. It is a tough moral issue. It is a true shame that Jackman got so little recognition for his performance. His transformation throughout the film is heartbreaking, and we see it all happen, with Jackman going all out delivering what is one of the best performances of his career. His wife however, completely shuts down and is utterly ignorant to the activities of her husband, who is constantly trying to protect and reassure her that everything is going to be alright while she descends into depression.
Gyllenhaal too does a great job in his role. He is rough around the edges; giving us the feeling that he can’t entirely be trusted (at least that was the case for me). But the scenes involving him and Jackman are some of the best in the film. The problem is we see Loki as a hindrance to Keller; he is constantly snooping around on him, we feel as though he is more harm than good to solving the case, and even though he is trying his hardest to find the girls, it appears that Keller is more likely to get information despite his morally questionable actions.
What makes this movie so compelling is its utterly intense atmosphere. There are so many different layers of tension; whether it is between Keller and Loki, which consistently rises throughout the film, or between Keller and Franklin, and eventually himself, as they both begin to wonder if torturing Jones will really lead somewhere.
Along with Jackman, Gyllenhaal, Dano, who all should have been praised during the award season, Melissa Leo, Howard, and Davis all give great performances. Leo plays the aunt of Jones, who has the greatest faith in her son, and is certain he didn’t do anything.
But I will not ruin any of the major plot points, because this movie continually surprised me with how well written and mysterious it is. I will say that the movie is a tad too long, and that might scare people off. It is also very intense and not for people looking for a casual kidnapping mystery movie. The plot could drag for some, but for me I was completely into it the whole time. The only little qualms I had were the underwriting of the other children of the Birch’s and Dover’s. They are pretty nonexistent for most of the movie and they could have been featured more in a way to show the stress on them as well as their parents.
I sit here writing this and still find it unfathomable how this movie only got a Best Cinematography nod. Jackman was a tour-de-force, and definitely deserved some recognition. Heck, the writing could have gotten a Best Original Screenplay nomination over Blue Jasmine or Nebraska. But one nomination for this entire movie blows my mind. I will not let another movie like this slip underneath my radar. This movie could probably be considered the most underrated of 2013.
So, if you want to watch a movie that will keep you guessing, that has fantastic performances, and that palpably intense, check Prisoners out. It is a little late now, but if I were to redo my Top of 2013 list, I would most definitely add this on there. Go watch this movie.