Child abductions have been an all too common occurrence in these times. Violence against the innocent conjures up our inner desire for revenge toward the predators and kidnappers who commit these crimes, which is what makes “Prisoners” such an engrossing, and often times arduous, film to watch.
Keller Dover, the red-eyed hothead played by Hugh Jackman, seeks retribution toward the person who has kidnapped his daughter and her friend on Thanksgiving evening.
After the man being questioned for the kidnapping, Alex Jones (played by Paul Dano), is let go, a dead body is discovered in the basement of a priest’s house. During a candlelight vigil for the two girls, a man who appears to be menacing is seen and runs away into the ominous shadows of the night.
These facets and the characters that inhabit this world make “Prisoners” a classic whodunit, with ominous clues and adept revelations that immerse the viewer into the wintery milieu of Pennsylvania.
Dover is convinced Jones has knowledge of his daughter’s whereabouts, and this certainty leads Dover, a loving father and husband, to seek out his own revenge toward Jones by abducting him to an abandoned apartment building.
Dover tortures and questions Jones, but to no avail. Jones says nothing. Dover’s tactics are brutal and rooted in desperation, seeking a reason for the madness that has inflicted his family.
Prayers are heard throughout the film, and during these scenes, the imagery of Christ comes to mind – nails, a hammer and the bloody face of Jones evoke the story of the crucifixion, somehow relaying the notion Dover is scorning a man that is perhaps innocent of the crime.
Director Denis Villeneuve is obsessed with the nature of evil and the people who are consumed by it, and in this film, he spends a great deal of time toward the procedure of the investigation and exploring the subtleties of those who committed the crimes.
Dover tells the family of the other girl of his deeds, but for Franklin and Nancy Birch (played by Terrence Howard and Viola Davis) the ethical dilemma that is now before them seems like one worth dealing with if it means the return of their daughter.
Perhaps the most distressed character in all of this is Detective Loki, played by Jake Gyllenhaal, whose performance is so convincing and so carefully crafted, that it will make you forget that you are watching a movie star, but instead, following a tortured man assemble the clues that will lead him to the predator.
We have no backstory of Loki and see nothing of his personal life. He is clearly a man who yearns for justice, but unlike Dover, he is serene and contemplates every possible alternative in the investigation.
Gyllenhaal’s gestures in the film have an organic vitality to them. He makes us care for everything that is occurring. Jackman is convincing in the film, but Gyllenhaal elevates the material and directly affects the audience’s concern for those who might die along the way.
Writer Aaron Guzikowski stays within the parameters of the revenge drama. But through casting and the moral plights of the characters that roam the cold and bare terrain of the Keystone State, “Prisoners” seems on the surface like Lifetime Movie material, but is instead a film that will leave you muted and absorbed in the decisions that motivate these characters in this naturalistic setting courtesy of cinematographer Roger Deakins.
“Prisoners” is a film that demands your attention and will leave you pondering, “What would I do?”