Bullets 7: Prisoners

Posted: September 22, 2013 in Movies, Reviews
Tags: , , , ,


Prisoners (Grade:  A-)

There is a chill in the morning air.  Leaves have begun to fall from trees.  The football season is in full swing.  All of this can mean only one thing.  Oscar bait is about to land on your local multiplex with an unrelenting fury.  That means Hollywood is about to serve up a passel of serious dramas, biopics, and costumed period pieces.  And while French Canadian director Dennis Villeneuve’s thriller can stand proudly among films of this ilk, it is unlikely to be remembered come January 2014 when this year’s Oscar noms are announced.

But that’s neither here nor there.  It ain’t all about trophies and there’s been hundreds of movies that are better than most Best Picture winners.

Prisoners is a chilling and chilly film.  Set in a small Pennsylvania town, it opens on Thanksgiving Day as two families gather to celebrate the holiday and break bread.  Their post meal doldrums are interrupted when they realize that the younger daughters of both families, having earlier walked to the visiting family’s nearby home, haven’t returned.  Their fathers and siblings race out onto the streets desperately searching for them.  A wintry mix of rain and sleet has begun that permeates the rest of the film and sets a gloomy and dire tone.  The girls are nowhere to be found.

A young detective with a perfect record picks up the case when he is called to investigate the sighting of an RV that matches the description of one seen along the street that the girls had been playing on prior to their disappearance.  He’s convinced that the man within, a man-child of low intellect, knows where the girls are and we will not rest until them suspect tells him what he wants to know.  The man claims to know nothing and eventually is freed for lack of evidence.

The film proceeds to track parallel paths of investigation.  The detective following leads and the fathers following their guts, leading to a final confrontation where those twin paths fatefully and fatally collide.

The cast is top-notch.  Hugh Jackman and Terrence Howard are the two fathers desperate to mend and reunite their devastated families.  Jackman especially shines.  His character is a bit of a survivalist, his basement filled with essentials, who stills finds himself helpless and hopeless to protect the most innocent of those he most loves.  Maria Bello plays his wife, the weakest role in the film, who has little to do but cry in her bed.  Howard, with far less screen time, gives control of the situation to his wife, played by Viola Davis, who shows a steely indifference to any questions of morality that might arise from that which must be done to uncover the truth.

Paul Dano is the man accused who perhaps suffers more than anyone else.  He doesn’t understand what is happening around him.  He doesn’t understand what he may or may not have done.  And that childlike innocence and ignorance may lead to his end.

Jake Gyllenhaal is stellar as the determined cop willing to follow any lead to find the girls.  He’s instinctual and stubborn.  He knows he’s circling the truth but he just can’t put the pieces together.  He’s twitch and constantly blinking, fighting back sleep that would waste precious time because he knows.  He knows the longer the girls are missing the more likely they are to never be found or to be found dead.

The film never lets up on the pressure surrounding all of these characters as they do indeed become prisoners of their pursuits.  Someone has to break for all the lies to come unraveled and there will be consequences.

The film becomes almost too heavy at points and because of this its 2 and 1/2 hour running time is about 20 minutes too long.  There is at least one subplot that diverts the investigation that could have been cut, the pertinent elements that contribute to the conclusion easily folded into the rest of the story.  But that one quibble aside, I’ve nothing bad to say.

It’s just good old-fashioned quality Hollywood film-making and, really, that’s never a bad thing.




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