Prisoners (2013)
Prisoners (2013)

Genre: Thriller Running Time: 2 hrs. 33 min.

Release Date: September 20th, 2013 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Denis Villeneuve Actors: Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis, Maria Bello, Terrence Howard, Melissa Leo, Paul Dano, Zoe Soul




wealth of engrossing ideas populates “Prisoners” as it carefully unravels modicums of information to relate a macabre mystery. Tantalizingly, tidbits of notions and clues are doled out, almost teasingly, to string the audience along for a nail-biting ride. Unfortunately, despite a kidnapping premise that has the strength and suspense to pull viewers in, not unlike the cryptic mazes that one bizarre murder suspect scrawls undistractedly, the running time offers a drastic disservice.

While the first half plunges straightaway into the action, the second part drags on for entirely too long. It’s not that the scenes are pointless – it’s that there is easily enough content for more than one film. Rather than simply layering the mystery at the core, the story opts to branch off into multiple subplots that only lengthen the experience – not enhance it. The serpentine disappearance case proves intriguing enough; to add a grim test of faith and morality to the tale convolutes an already heavy narrative.

What begins as a happy Thanksgiving meal together for the Dover and Birch families quickly escalates into a fevered nightmare when their youngest daughters Anna and Joy mysteriously vanish. Determined to locate the missing girls, Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) tracks down shy, reclusive Alex Jones (Paul Dano) who may have been the last one to see the two children. But when Jones, with a defectively limited mind, refuses to talk and is released from police custody, Anna’s father Keller (Hugh Jackman) takes it upon himself to continue where the law could not. Kidnapping Alex, Keller tortures the boy in the hopes of uncovering any clues to his daughter’s whereabouts. But as time quickly runs out for all involved, Keller and Loki are drawn deeper into a labyrinthine mystery where everything is deviously connected.

It begins with immediate ominousness, imparting a sense of disquiet against a backdrop of normalcy. Families unite for a celebratory dinner, play in the street, and reminisce with the help of alcoholic beverages. The swift disappearance of the little girls serves to remind of the realism of the fictional proposition. It could happen to anyone, especially the unsuspecting. The editing even makes a few splendidly unique decisions: the first involvement of the police and their questioning is skipped over entirely; the hysterical parents aren’t shown until after the manhunt has begun; and introductions to characters and their missions are truncated when obvious. And this doesn’t exactly change once the second story is integrated – even the uncertain concluding moments strip expectations. The additional plot, however, only elongates the entire picture.

Summoning the intensity of recent thrillers’ storylines like “The Call,” “Zodiac,” or “Changling,” this weighty film manages admirably with atmospheric cinematography, horrific grisliness, and tense discoveries. It seems as if, having selected the title “Prisoners,” writer Aaron Guzikowski deemed it necessary to turn that designation into a triple entendre, with the morality of characters being tested, blame being assigned, actions designated as without choice, fate locked in, and physical imprisonment befalling the majority. The film isn’t subtle in its questioning of viewers, continually asking for responses of approval, disappointment, disgust, or contempt; and finally, quite unintentionally, tried patience. It’s not that a transition takes place to signify the slowing down of momentum, considering the dialogue and acting are regularly top-notch and the subplots individually riveting. It’s simply that both a morality play and a crime drama don’t fit together in this one film (perhaps a smarter editor could have made it work).

– The Massie Twins

  • 5/10