Canadian director Denis Villeneuve has a lot to say with Prisoners. He offers a chilling inside look at the disappearances and abductions too often in the news, and the result feels shockingly real.
A simple story about two missing kids merges with a classic tale of a veteran detective to create an exciting, unpredictable movie. The film focuses on Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman), a father who decides to take matters into his own hands when his young daughter, Anna (Erin Gerasimovich), and her friend Joy (Kyla Drew Simmons), go missing. Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) is also searching for the girls, but Dover grows more desperate as time runs out. Alex Jones (Paul Dano), a mentally challenged young man who is the prime kidnapping suspect, is a disturbing manifestation of mental illness that adds a whole new layer of darkness.
Prisoners moves at a rapid pace without feeling rushed, weaving characterization naturally into the story so that time is never sacrificed fleshing out characters. Villeneuve and writer Aaron Guzikowski introduce the action quickly and avoid excess at the end, making the 153-minute runtime seem shorter. While pacing is one of the script's strengths, a few flaws plague the writing. The police procedural aspect is weaker than the rest of the film, given that Loki never fully investigates obvious places that play key roles later on. These details, along with a few plot points toward the end, conveniently force the story where Guzikowski wants it without making much sense.
Dover and the second girl's parents, Nancy (Viola Davis) and Franklin (Terrence Howard), make some rash decisions while looking for their kids. Dover's choices sometimes verge on psychopathic, providing reasons to wholeheartedly doubt his morality.
The actors give stellar performances, and although subtle hints of Jackman's Australian accent creep in once or twice, he convincingly plays an all-American father who embraces savagery to find his daughter. Jackman will probably be overlooked come awards season, though, because the real intrigue of his character stems from the script. Gyllenhaal brings Loki acutely to life, right down to the way he blinks, and Dano uncannily masters his character's voice.
Paired with proficient acting, the tight editing makes conversations as real as the subject matter. A few of the lengthier shots showcase Jackman by giving him the uninterrupted time he needs to develop his character. Good cinematography benefits the settings as well, and the visual essence lies in the relentless presence of rain and snow.
Prisoners is a dark taste of reality, simultaneously poignant drama and enthralling crime thriller. Mark Mukherjee is a senior at King High.