Critic’s Rating: 3 stars out of 5
Rated R by the MPAA. Directed by Denis Villenueve. Starring Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Maria Bello, Paul Dano, Terrence Howard, David Dastmalchian and Viola Davis. Opens Fri., at area theaters.
“The most important thing your grandfather ever taught me was ‘be ready.’”
This is the advice Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) imparts to his son as his progeny is lining up the kill shot on a buck. The deer is part of the Dovers’ contribution to Thanksgiving with the Birches, and wife Grace (Maria Bello) gladly helps the slightly mortified Nancy Birch (Viola Davis) with the venison. Daughters Anna Dover (Erin Gerasimovich) and Joy Birch (Kyla Drew Simmons) head outside to play, supervised by brother Ralph Dover (Dylan Minnette) and sister Eliza Birch, getting a little too close to the shitty camper parked in the street.
After supper and a few too many for Franklin Birch (Terrence Howard), out comes the trumpet and he’s taking requests. The girls are restless again and head outside. But the older sibs are in a food coma in the basement when it’s time to go home and the girls are nowhere to be found. Neither is that camper.
Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) is assigned the case and hauls in the RV driver, Alex Jones (Paul Dano) a pasty-faced local with a room temperature IQ. Days pass with no progress on locating the missing girls. The devout Papa Dover is being tested; can Loki unravel the crime before a determined father finds out exactly how far he’s willing to go?
Prisoners is helmed by Denis Villenueve, a French-Canadian filmmaker in his American film debut (with an Oscar nom in 2010 for Best Foreign Language Film), and penned by Aaron Guzikowski, for whom the only feather in his hat was the screenplay for Contraband, Look, this film was … well shit, in that context, I’m surprised at how good it was. I was going to bitch about how it dragged on far too long, the clunky, snail-to-sprint pace and the feast-or-famine denouement. Instead, I'll just sit back and admire how they got enough funds to pull this kind of star power with that lean of a collective resume.
The film actually is exceptionally well written (… wow, Contraband?!!?), so credit Guzikowski for weaving an intricate tale and actually tying up loose ends. Refreshingly, there’s not a bit of false intrigue in the plot, which will leave you wondering; sharp-eyed movie-goers will start to unravel it around the beginning of hour two. Credit also the execs who backed this project (thank you, soulless Hollywood executives, wherever you are). And, in the spirit of giving thanks, give Villenueve another shot before sending him back to Montreal.
Casting? Give me a bearded Hugh Jackman and some emotive, guttural roars any day of the week. Maria Bello either isn’t aging well or did a great job as the pilled-out, grief-stricken mother. Bravo to Paul Dano, who masterfully portrays a beady-eyed, lank-haired man-child with skin like boiled pretzel dough before baking. Howard does well as the slightly henpecked educator, and David Dastmalchian is impressive as a nervous and clearly unstable suspect (which, if you remember him as the guy Harvey Dent flipped the coin on in The Dark Knight, seems to be his thing).
What? Oh wait. Yeah… Gyllenhaal. I’m sorry. Not for forgetting, mind you. Look, I’ve really tried and I want to be able to but I find it physically impossible to take Jake Gyllenhaal seriously. I try soooo hard to give that goofy-faced sonofabitch a chance and I can't do it.
Check out Prisoners during visiting hours, it’s a suspenseful jaunt on the precipice of
greatness really good-ness. Let’s just say you won’t have to be chained to your seat to keep watching.