God-fearing survivalist suits him.

God-fearing survivalist suits him.

During a Thanksgiving outing, two young girls, Joy Birch and Anna Dover, go missing from their quiet suburb. As days go by, the police are forced to release the only suspect due to a lack of evidence. The resulting demand for answers forces the family members to descend into their own private hells. Desperate for resolve, Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) takes it upon himself to do the unthinkable in order to find his daughter. Meanwhile, Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) also breaks to the point of obsession as he faces the guilt wrought by these suffering families.

Prisoners is simply a solid, visceral film. The labyrinth motif makes its way through every facet of the story, to the point where it almost makes you want to throw up. Almost, considering how the concepts transcends through the literal and internal. And I think it’s fair to say that it’s not just mazes for the sake of mazes: we’re talking about some twisted psyches here – which leads me to the presentation of the film.

Dano plays this character with both sympathy and malice. Dude's underrated.

Dano plays this character with in a manner which earns both sympathy and malice. Dude’s underrated.

I found the plot structure admirable, considering that it does not play out like the average kidnapping suspense. The pace is slow (sometimes a little too slow), building and calculative, and you essentially only get the story from Loki or Duller’s perspective (okay, except for this one time), which better draws the viewer into this descent.

I found the story (as well as its finer details) not only to be original, but also believable. For instance, when Keller tortures suspect Alex Jones (Paul Dano), the torture is sloppy, brutal, and honestly frightening. Keller is practically a living portrait of desperation. Furthermore, we’re met with a new breed of killer – not just a rehashing of real life horrors.

Gripping and unapologetic, Prisoners is a fantastic suspense feature. And though the payoff isn’t as explosive as the usual American thriller (I just wanted a bit more exposition – maybe I’m just greedy),  the original mythos and the momentum of the piece is something truly admirable.

Final Grade: A


About reelgirl

Film lover, kitsch enthusiast, and all around neat gal. You can read what I'm up to at Reel Girl Reviews!

Posted on September 21, 2013, in Review and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 14 Comments.

  1. Funnily enough I went looking through the Coming Soon page on the local megaplex’s site and this was the only flick that looked interesting.
    Have you caught up with The Iceman by the way? Seems to have gone straight to DVD here. Which I don’t understand, since Michael Shannon isn’t exactly unknown.

    • Doesn’t look like it’s on Netflix as of yet…but it is at a Redbox. I haven’t used one of those yet – perhaps I’ll pick it up. I’ve seen interviews with the guy before, but I do enjoy that Michael Shannon. I take it you’ve seen the infamous sorority letter reading?

  2. I ought to ask, did you see My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done? I have kind of mixed feelings about it and it might help to talk me through.

    • Okay. I found it. So let’s talk.

      • On the whole I enjoyed it. The one thing I can’t wrap my head around is the ridiculousness – mainly the oatmeal and the ostriches. Was it crazy for crazy’s sake? Okay, I guess I should say I saw it a couple of years ago and those were the things that stuck out with me.

      • Uh-huh…. so you weren’t disturbed by the idea of a man running his mother through with a sword? I mean, can we get any more Freudian with the symbolism?
        Be that as it may. I enjoyed it too, as a suburban horror movie. Grace Zabriskie looked like Death itself; her face was like a single layer of skin pulled tight over her skull. I’d like to know how much of her weird facial expressions and body language actually belonged to the real-life woman, if any.
        The moment when they all slow down to a simulated freeze frame at the table seemed to parody Norman Rockwell.
        The cast was an odd mix, although everyone was effective in their role. Willem Dafoe was too big for the secondary role of the detective, I thought. I kept waiting for him to do more. But Michael Shannon was perfect in the lead. And I find it hard to believe that Chloe Sevigny is nearly forty.
        Crazy for crazy’s sake was a big part of Herzog’s early career. Having seen Aguirre and Kaspar Hauser, the oatmeal and ostriches didn’t strike me as odd. That reminds me… I’ll have to track down Even Dwarfs Started Small.
        I am always skeptical about that ‘based on a true story’ line. And it appears that most of the detail was invented. But the most interesting comment on the tale comes from Herzog’s collaborator Herbert Golders, in this interview:
        “I visited him a number of times, recording our conversations. He was an archivist, and turned over everything, including cards, poems, and letters he wrote to his mother. He revealed things he had never disclosed to the psychiatrists and police, because if he had, it might have been questionable whether he would have been found not guilty by reason of insanity.”

      • I definitely enjoyed the suburban/Freudian horror story – in fact, let’s have more of those. I figured it was just crazy for crazy’s sake, but it’s stuff like that that kind of draws me out of the intensity. I think I ought to do a re-watch and a write-about.

        Now that I think of it, I’ve only seen a small number of Herzog joints – I kinda focused more on weirdos like Von Trier and Korine during my weirdo time (using the phrase “weirdo” with upmost admiration, of course). I kind of took a huge interest in Dogme 95 just last year.

        Time to dig into Netflix.

  3. I haven’t heard of this movie. IMDB doesn’t indicate any release here, and Planet Video doesn’t list it either. When my local dvd hire – the unargued home of arthouse/alternative vid in Perth – doesn’t know about a movie, I’m intrigued. More news as it comes to hand…

  4. Having led the previous conversation completely away from the movie being reviewed I return now to offer my comments on Prisoners.

    Phaaaaark… that’s one hell of a ride.

    I didn’t realise it was nearly three hours long until I bought my ticket. My fears were groundless, however. Prisoners kept my attention for every minute. The tension was built up through a rock-sold script that kept the characters a step or two behind the audience.

    Hugh Jackman will cop Best Actor nominations from all over for his work in Prisoners. Keller Dover is a hard man without being a full-on revenge machine. He falters again and again as he murmurs the Lord’s Prayer; whatever his faults, being a pious hypocrite isn’t one of them.

    The ending could have been resolved firmly one way or the other – though we we all hoping it would take the happier option – but that wouldn’t have fit well with the rest of the movie. After so many false turns and errors of judgement, an ending that wasn’t ambiguous would have seemed a cheat.

    As a side note – Prisoners opened two weeks ago here, and I had intended to wait another couple of weeks before seeing it. But it’s already down to two sessions a day at my local multiscreen. Still showing four or five times a day everywhere else in Perth, but this area is not liking it. There would have been 20 people at most for my session.

    • Unfortunately this film didn’t get a ton of hype, but I’m glad you got to see it!

      I really hope Dano gets some recognition for this part, but I’m not expecting too much, considering he’s known for playing the quiet, weird types. But like I said, I was caught between pitying and hating this guy.

      I also totally agree about the ending matching the tone. I like to think that he found him, and the rest played out as he described to Maria Bello, and so we didn’t have to sit through court procedures.

  5. Sadly for Dano I think he was just TOO weird in this. Pitiable, no doubt. But I can’t see the Academy giving a statuette to a man whose character tortures animals. PETA would accuse them of legitimising cruelty and camp naked in the street, or something.
    Jake Gyllenhaal will probably suffer the same fate. The star tattoo on his neck and the short-sides haircut were ambiguous: is this cop a former gang member? And then, there was the blinking. The weird… robotic… blinking.

    • It’s odd how often weirdness gets shafted – they say it’s an honor just to be nominated, but come on! Winning characters that have committed worse offenses, but as we know, we draw a line when an animal gets hurt.

      I definitely wanted to know more about Gyllenhaal’s character and his weird tic.

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