The mystery of Prisoners begins when two little girls disappear on Thanksgiving in rural Pennsylvania, and the clock starts ticking in a desperate attempt to find them. One of the girls is the daughter of Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman), a Christian carpenter with a survivalist mentality who becomes deeply involved in the search to find them, led by detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhall). The arrest of a creepy, loner-type suspect Alex Waters initially raises hopes until no evidence of the missing girls is found and he is released. This leads Dover to take justice into his own hands and, along with the other girl’s father (played by Terrence Howard), he imprisons the suspect and attempts to extract by force the information he needs to find his daughter. As Dover becomes more and more desperate, his vigilante actions eventually cast suspicion and he himself becomes a subject of Loki’s investigation. What unfolds is a complex and sometimes thrilling mystery, with an abundance of twists and turns.
In Prisoners, director Denis Villeneuve obviously explores the theme of imprisonment on multiple levels, such as physical confinement, psychological and emotional, religious, social, etc. With Dover’s imprisonment and treatment of Waters, the other subtexts like torture and water boarding, extralegal confinement, and religious zeal become apparent and it is an uncomfortable journey towards what we believe the end might be, but we certainly hope is not. Unfortunately, as the plot turns, and twists, and grinds towards an unforseen end, at about 2 hours into the film fatigue sets in and you just want it to be over. You don’t care how, you just want it to end. Along the way, in order to make the story work, things become a little too coincidental (like the detective ALWAYS being in the right place at the right time), and you can’t help but roll your eyes and think that maybe the director is taking you for a fool. After an exhausting 153 minutes, the bloated story finally comes to an extremely abrupt ending, leaving you wondering if the director himself simply ran out of film, money, time or patience. It left me chuckling to myself and thinking…”after all that you couldn’t carry on for 5 more minutes?”
The bloated, overly-complex story has some unfortunate consequences for Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhall, in that it dilutes the extraordinary and memorable performances by both actors. Dover (Jackman) is a simmering pot of boiling water, both sympathetic and detestable, and Loki (Gyllenhall) is aloof and enigmatic. It’s clear the Loki character is rich and complex, unfortunately we aren’t given the opportunity to understand why as too little is spent exploring his character and we are only given the slightest glimpses into who he might be. A more concise, simplified story and more development on the lead characters could have served the film much better and not overshadowed two remarkable performances.
Prisoners is a decent movie that could have been great. As it is, it seems like a (very) extended directors cut that could greatly benefit from a bit more editing, story refinement and a pared-down script. It’s a legitimate example of where too much of a good thing is just…too much.
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::: Renowned For Sound Technical Director and Film Reviewer ::: Robert is an IT geek, movie fan and part-time movie reviewer/editor. Robert also looks after the ‘behind the scenes’ technical elements of Renowned For Sound.