Prisoners [2013]

After loving his three latest movies (Blade Runner 2049, Arrival and Sicario), I decided to check out Denis Villeneuve’s first English-language feature film. Prisoners is a slowly burning psychological thriller with a run-time of two and a half hours. However, I knew that the atmosphere and the story will make up for that. And was really interested to see how he fared with a bit more down-to-earth themes. This is a movie about two missing girls and their families trying to do everything to find them. I know, I know, this subject is a recurring theme in thrillers and dramas and just in the last few years we had the opportunity to see several movies with a similar setup (did someone say Gone Girl). What sets Prisoners apart is great cinematography, gripping atmosphere and the mystery that will keep you interested ’till the end of the movie.

This movie marked the beginning of cooperation between Villeneuve and cult cinematographer Roger Deakins. So you can expect the same level of quality as in his last three above-mentioned movies. I mean that scene when the camera goes over that river was just so perfect. I literally stood up in my bed unable to find words to describe it so I just moaned. There you go, cumematoraphy. Very atmospheric and engaging, Prisoners is a definition of a great slow-burner that will not disappoint you with a sloppy third act or something like that.

If I didn’t know any better I would say that it’s based on a book but it’s not. It poses a question just how far would you be willing to go to find out what happened to your child and whether this is the right question to ask? With a setup like this, you might expect something heavier when it comes to violence or sub-plot, but Prisoners remain firmly rooted in mainstream, bringing an unusual level of quality to this genre that’s usually either too formulaic and simple or too sick and twisted.

Dovers and Birchs are two families living in picturesque suburban Pennsylvania, a place where time seems to have stopped somewhere in those golden sixties and seventies. Thanksgiving dinner is one of those events that they spend together, with grown-ups having a good time and children playing in the background. While talking, the parents realize that they can’t hear their kids playing and start looking for them…

We praised the visual side of this great movie, but without powerful performances by an ensemble cast led by none other than Hugh Jackman, this would be a whole different affair. I swear that this man can play anyone, one of the most talented actors currently active in Hollywood. Jake Gyllenhaal was also great as the twitchy and dedicated inspector. And by the way, twitches, tats and the ring were all his idea. So on an already well-developed and established character, he managed to add more and not make them too tacky or unlikable. Prisoners is a classic whodunnit movie with an artistic vibe and an interesting examination of family values and religion.

The kidnapping is a trigger that set off a series of events in which our characters are going through some serious self-examination. Or rather refusing to go through it. This is especially true for Hugh Jackman’s character, a standard-issue male with all the “right” values and behavior. In the end, the whole affair might seem a bit melodramatic and overly masculine, but only if you approach it from a critical standpoint. Luckily we can leave that to professional film critics. For an average movie lover Prisoners has a lot to offer. The themes it explores powered by great performances are something worth watching and discussing, enjoy.

Director: Denis Villeneuve

Writer: Aaron Guzikowski

Cast: Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis, Maria Bello, Terrence Howard, Melissa Leo, Paul Dano


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