The moral of the story is that you are so gonna get your ass kicked if you steal Wolverine's kid.
Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) is a family man who runs his own carpentry business. His family attends Thanksgiving dinner at the house of his neighbors, the Birch's. After dinner, the youngest daughters of both families, Anna and Joy, take a walk back to the Dover's home, only they never return. While looking for the kids, Keller's son recalls a parked RV the kids were playing on, but is no longer there. When the police find the RV, they arrest the driver, Alex Jones (Paul Dano), but can find no trace of the kids. Making this more difficult is that Alex has the intelligence of a 10-year-old, so getting any kind of useful information out of him isn't likely.
Not having any real evidence to hold Alex, the police are forced to let him go. Convinced that Alex knows the location of the kids, Keller kidnaps and plans to torture him until he reveals where they are. Meanwhile, the detective that's in charge of the investigation, Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal), looks into every possible lead, even Keller.
Prisoners is a super intense film that had me on the edge of my seat throughout. Hell, I jumped more times watching this than I did when seeing Insidious: Chapter 2, and that's a horror film. I heard several gasps from those sitting around me. The reactions from the audience added to the experience, and is why I love seeing movies like this.
I was a little nervous when I saw that Prisoners was two and a half hours long. Considering the weight of the subject matter, I thought it might drag. While I did notice the length in a few parts, overall it didn't feel like a two and a half hour movie. It's barely 5-10 minutes into the film before the kids are abducted, and once that happens the tension escalates and never lets up. Prisoners is also not bogged down with needless exposition. For example, you get closeness of the Dover and Birch families without having to be told how they met or how long they've known each other.
Much like the characters, you'll go through a range of emotions and opinions throughout the film. There are times you'll feel bad for Alex as Keller is torturing him, but then you'll think he's hiding something, so maybe this needs to be done. Franklin (Terrence Howard) struggles with the morality of what they are doing to this guy, where his wife, Nancy (Viola Davis), goes along with it as a necessary evil to get their kids back. Meanwhile, Keller's wife Grace (Maria Bello), has taken to medicating herself as she can't deal with it at all. Even your opinion of Detective Loki will change. At the beginning, he's a little cocky and seems like he's going through the motions. He even does that patronizing, "Sir, what I'm gonna need for you to do for me is calm down", when dealing with the raw emotion of Keller. Then you see his own emotional investment in the case develop the longer he works on it.
However, the character I most identified with was Keller. While his methods are extreme, I look at it from the angle of the father. I don't have any kids myself, but I have two nephews roughly in the same age range. If they ever went missing, I would tear the world apart to find them. That's Hugh Jackman's Keller Dover, and I totally understood the lengths he was willing to go to get his daughter back.
Hugh Jackman may have been nominated for an Oscar for Les Miserables, his role in Prisoners is easily his best. It's such a passionate performance that I couldn't help but get wrapped up in it. As we're getting towards the end of the year there's already Oscar buzz about Prisoners and expect to see Jackman's name in the mix again. While Jackman is going to get the lion's share of the buzz, I wouldn't be surprised to Gyllenhall's name thrown around, too. The entire cast is fantastic and there isn't a weak link in the bunch. Even Melissa Leo has a small role, and once again she proves to be chameleon. I don't know what it is about her that I never realize she's in a movie until I see her name in the credits.
If there's anything about the film I thought was a little weak it was that there a bunch of red herrings, and it all wraps up a little too neatly. Some of them are obvious from the outset, like when they go out of their way to mention that Keller has an old, abandoned building left to him from his father. I wonder where he's going to hide Alex away? Others are a little more subtle and don't pay off until much later. It's a minor complaint though, and they weren't handled in a clumsy way. I thought Aaron Guzikowski's screenplay was very smart overall. I also have to applaud director Denis Villeneuve, not just for the pacing, but how balanced everything was. Even how many shots were framed were very well done.
Prisoners is an emotional, haunting ordeal. It's the kind of intense and disturbing that makes you feel like the film punched you in the gut after. Despite the weight of the film, it features powerhouse performances that make this a must watch.
4.5 (out of 5) Death Stars