When I left this movie, the first thing I wanted to do was go home and hug my son. The second thing I wanted and needed to do was inform everyone within a ten mile radius how important it is for this movie, Prisoners, to be seen. Easily one of the year’s best films, French Canadian director Denis Villenueve’s spellbinding tale will get inside your bones and stay there a while. Few movies have the power to be present you with a moral dilemma and take the necessary time to lay out their story while inserting every scene with authentic tension. Never mind the trailer that some believe gives away too much. What you get there is a basic setup that covers a third of the film’s running time. Prisoners is full of juicy compelling moral questions and features the best ensemble cast of 2013. Let’s dig in.
Hugh Jackman’s work as Keller Dover deserves Oscar attention. It goes without saying that the actor is as versatile a talent in Hollywood as one can find, but here he puts on display his best screen work to date. He turns it all up a notch. Forget his Oscar nominated work in Les Miserables last year. That is surface imitational work compared to what he does here as Dover, a father who won’t be stopped until he finds out where his daughter is. A survival specialist who keeps natural selection close to heart, Dover won’t be stopped and Jackman electrifies with his portrayal. This is the same man who grows claws out of his hands as Marvel’s Wolverine and dances on Broadway. Jackman is astounding and the emotional glue that holds the film together.
Gyllenhaal is nearly as brilliant, playing a detective who fills his whole life up with police work. He doesn’t have a home he dares to sleep in nor a vacation to seek. Detective Loki’s life is consumed by his cases and Gyllenhaal doesn’t fake a second of it. Concentration as sharp as a knife even though his eyes continue to blink and beg for starvation, the actor becomes this character and doesn’t stop at merely impersonating an officer. Gyllenhaal’s work in End of Watch must have helped him greatly here.
The rest of the cast is stellar. Bello, showing loads of despair but never creeping towards manipulation, turns in her best work since The Cooler. Davis and Howard, parents looking for their child with less hostile maneuvers, turn in solid work. Dano cranks up his quirky weird vibe on the outside yet slowly reveals a tortured soul beneath as his story line collides with Jackman’s. Melissa Leo, in a few scenes, creates someone that doesn’t leave your head far after the credits roll. She is the picture of realism.
Villenueve has only done a handful of films, but one can only hope he trusts the Hollywood system to deliver more of these style of films. The film is shot beautifully by Roger Deakins, covering the dark tale in perfectly set grey tones. Editor Joel Cox doesn’t waste a single frame in conveying the director’s message. The production work here is aces across the board right down to the understated and powerful score by Johann Johannsson.
If art’s goal is to imitate life, this film comes pretty close. Prisoners is a truly complete cinematic experience. The story is pulverizing and shocking. It won’t just take a piece of parents, but any soul with warm blood flowing through it. It’s challenging for moviegoers because it presents lingering questions that begin and end with emotional response. The end isn’t tied up like a cute little knot. A very deserving film of your attention, Prisoners may be the best film I have seen in 2013.