Director: Denis Villeneuve
Writer: Aaron Guzikowski
Stars: Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Maria Bello, Terrence Howard, Viola Davis, Paul Dano, Melissa Leo, Erin Gerasimovich, and Zoe Borde
A Thanksgiving Dinner goes horribly wrong when two daughters, Anna Dover (Erin Gerasimovich) and Eliza Birch (Zoe Borde), go missing. After forty-eight hours in custody with no hard evidence of his involvement, Det. Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) has to release his prime suspect, Alex Jones (Paul Dano). Believing the police can no longer help, Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) abducts Alex in order to make him talk by whatever means necessary.
The writer, Aaron Guzikowski, created an intelligent script with fully realized characters, and more importantly a story that does not take you down the usual path but keeps you guessing as to where you end up. The story is both a crime drama and a character piece, with the central question being how far will you go. How far will a father go to get his daughter back? How far will you turn a blind eye to something you know is not right? Is this person a hero or monster? Is this person a victim or a perpetrator? The story only becomes wobbly upon further thought after the movie has ended, but these are minor points that do not take away from the film.
The acting across the board is incredible. Hugh Jackman as Keller Dover brings more menace in his interrogation of Alex Jones than in any scene of Wolverine in any movie. His Dover is a decent man brought to the edge of sanity by incredible circumstances. Maria Bello as Grace Dover is also brought low, but in her case to depression & withdrawal. Terrance Howard is the audience surrogate. Like Jackman’s Dover, his Franklin Birch is a decent man brought low. But unlike Dover he sees the wrong in their actions; worse he chooses to do nothing about it. Paul Dano delivers another solid performance as Alex Jones. The quiet prime suspect with the supposed intelligence of a ten-year old. But his Alex has an edge, a not quite right vibe that makes us guessing to how much he knows. As for Jake Gyllenhaal, with this role as Det. Loki and Robert Graysmith from Zodiac, he is establishing a knack for delivering great performances in adult thrillers. Det. Loki has an edge with a back story you want to know but is not revealed. Melissa Leo is unrecognizable as Holly Jones and Violas Davis works as a strong counterpoint to Howard’s vacillating Franklin.
Denis Villeneuve delivers a tight and engaging thriller. Though the film is 153 minutes long, it never feels fat and moves at a quick pace. The mood is decidedly bleak and washed-out–as if the film was bleached at times. Shots are well composed and Villeneuve is not afraid to show you the gritty–and necessary–moments. There is nothing supliferous. He also makes clever decisions in editing. Key dialogue is heard during a confrontation but never seen spoken. Did the character actually say it, or did the other character hear something he wanted to hear?
Prisoners delivers across the board. Definitely the best thriller of the year and in my Top-Ten so far.
Grade = A-