Prisoners

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Director: Denis Villeneuve.
Screenplay: Aaron Guzikowski.
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Paul Dano, Viola Davis, Terrence Howard, Maria Bello, Melissa Leo, Dylan Minnette, Zoe Borde, Erin Gerasimovich, Kyla Drew Simmons, David Dastmalchian, Wayne Duvall.

Pray for the best, but prepare for the worst“.

In 2011, Canadian director Denis Villeneuve’s “Incendies” received an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language film. For that, he depicted a family that ventured on a journey of discovery. In “Prisoners“, Villeneuve turns his eye to another bleak family drama where ‘discovery’ is, once again, the driving force behind his characters’ motivations.

After a thanksgiving meal, two young girls go missing. The fathers of the girls, Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) and Franklin Birch (Terrence Howard) refuse to accept the procedure of the police in their investigation and take it upon themselves to be very active in the manhunt. When the main suspect (Paul Dano) is released from custody, Keller takes extreme measures in finding the answers to his daughters whereabouts.

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Set in a cold, working class, Northwestern town, the look and feel for “Prisoners” is established from the off-set. It’s harsh and bleak environment is reflective of the characters that inhabit it and Villeneuve wastes no time in depicting it’s grim tale of child abduction. In it’s early stages and premise, both of the lead actors reminded me very much of two Sean Penn films: Jackman’s tortured father resembled that of Penn’s character in “Mystic River” and Gyllenhaal’s doggedly determined police officer echoed the work of Jack Nicholson in Penn’s marvellous directorial outing “The Pledge“. Like these aforementioned films, “Prisoners” benefits from being anchored by these powerful leads. I’m not normally a fan of Jackman but the man cannot be faulted here, in his ferocious turn as a protective father, stricken helpless and with no control over his situation or grief. His furious and emotional outbursts are entirely believable and Gyllenhaal’s subtle ticks and repressed display of a very similar character compliments the work of Jackman. On the outskirts, an impressive supporting cast are assembled in Paul Dano; Oscar winner Melissa Leo and Nominees Viola Davis and Terrence Howard, although the very talented likes of Davis and Howard are somewhat wasted in thankless roles that don’t utilise their talents to the full.

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In capturing the stark environment, cinematographer Roger Deakins delivers some sublime work. In a time of recession, this small town has little or no future and it’s grim reality and sense of desperation and paranoia oozes from every pore. Villeneuve also cleverly plays with time; the town has come to a standstill during the investigation and even though every day counts for the grief stricken families, time seems laborious and torturous. The twists and turns of events unfold at their own pace making this, for the most part, a very tight and involving thriller. However, at two and half hours, the film is a little overlong with the final 30 minutes consisting of some tenuous and cliched plot developments and a few too many red herrings but these only stand out because the film is so strong up until then.

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A solid and unrelenting thriller that has some uncomfortable moments and an ever shifting moral compass. “Prisoners” is the perfect title in describing the entrapment – in one way or another – of each of the characters, but when it comes to the audience, director Villeneuve doesn’t take any.

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Mark Walker

Trivia: Hugh Jackman portrays a father whose daughter is kidnapped and missing in this film. He was originally attached to play a similar role in The Lovely Bones (2009), but dropped out. That role was filled by Mark Wahlberg, who at one point was attached to play the lead role in this film.

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74 Responses to “Prisoners”

  1. Good review man. I have one coming up soon as well. It’s been interesting watching the range of reaction to this one. Mostly positive though.

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    • Cheers bud! Yeah, I had originally heard that it was rubbish and decided against watching it. Then some positive reviews started flooding in and I changed my mind. I’m glad I did, I really liked it.

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  2. good review here Mark. From what I’ve seen in the trailers it didn’t look that good but I may have been given the wrong impression.

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  3. Great review, I really lied Prisoners but thought the whole torture subplot felt out of place

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    • Cheers Mikey! I actually thought the torture bit was acceptable. Jackman’s character was one of those unhinged Armageddon types where he would do whatever was necessary, so I kinda bought that. It was towards the end and the unravelling of it all that I didn’t buy so much.

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  4. Largely agreed. I thought the flaws a bit more severe than you do, but in the end we’re seeing many of the same ingredients and weighing then differently, I think.

    Great review!

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  5. I haven’t seen this movie yet, but I really want to based on the reviews I have read. I also love that you add some trivia to the end of the review. Caps things off nicely.

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    • I’d agree with most of the reviews Smash. There are the odd few who didn’t like it but it’s pretty powerful stuff.

      Yeah, Trivia posts were a regular around here but I’ve been too busy to compile any lately so I thought I’d add a few here and there to wet people’s appetite. My trivia feature will return again though.

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      • Understandable, the De Niro blog is now in full swing too so that’s gotta be keeping you busy. I look forward to more trivia!

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      • Yeah, the DeNiro blog is in full swing and Tyson is having long term difficulties with his access to the internet and WordPress. Hence his absence. However, we’ll keep chipping away at it and more trivia shall be delivered in due time, miss. Thanks again! ๐Ÿ™‚

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  6. That’s some nice trivia. As for the movie itself I thought it was really good, one of my favorites this year. I did figure out part of the story within the first hour though taking away some of the surprise. Still a very solid movie with great performances.

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  7. Nice review, Mark. Haven’t seen it, but I like your taste in films, so I will give it a go. The cast is too good to miss.

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    • There’s no higher praise than someone enjoying your taste in films, so for that, I give a hearty thanks Cindy. I hope you like this as much as I did. It’s does have flaws that I’m not denying but for the most part a very solid thriller.

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  8. Glad you got as much of a kick out of this as I did. Quality filmmaking all round. Hats off to you again Mark for another fine review.

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    • Much obliged my man! Yeah, it was a strong film that kept me engrossed. I really didn’t know how I would take to it but came away from it quite pleased. I know some people have been a little harsh on it but I really don’t understand why!

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  9. Great review. Agree that it’s a bit long but it’s also one of the best of the year. Jackman and Gyllenhaal are just superb.

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  10. Nice review, I enjoyed this one as well. I felt the same way about it falling apart a bit with the ending but the solid performances and great direction made this one of my favorites of the year.

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    • Thanks a lot Griff. Glad to hear we’re in agreement here. It did fall apart towards the end but up until then it was gripping stuff. I honestly didn’t expect it to be as good as it was.

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  11. I’m glad you liked this! I was a big fan (it’s just outside my top 5 for the year), even given its relatively implausible plot. Loved the cinematography (Deakins is a god!).

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  12. Good review Mark. Was a bit long and didn’t really mean much in the end, but I was still on-the-edge of my seat the whole time it was playing. Even when people were just talking and emoting.

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    • Thanks Dan! It was certainly overlong and I wasn’t quite satisfied with how it eventually played out but like you, I pretty captivated throughout. That can’t be a bad thing at all.

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  13. Great review Mark, seems that you like this one enough to give it high marks. I just might give it a rent, for some reason I couldn’t muster enough interest to see it on the big screen.

    Interesting trivia btw, nice touch ๐Ÿ˜€

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    • Thanks Ruth. Yeah, I wasn’t interested in this either when it first arrived but after hearing some good things, I decided to check it out. It’s a powerful film with a very powerful cast. Definitely worth some attention.

      Yeah, these little added trivia pieces are only to keep readers happy until I find the time to bring back the trivia feature. ๐Ÿ™‚

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      • Sounds good man! Oh that’s why you’re doing it, well as you know I LOVE trivia so keep ’em coming! ๐Ÿ™‚

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      • I’m hoping to keep them both! Full and regular trivia posts and also one for each film (if I can find it). The full posts probably won’t return until after the new year, though, but I will hopefully do a little one just before then with a little Christmas theme. ๐Ÿ™‚

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  14. Nice review Mark, and some interesting piece of trivia there at the end, too. Did not know that. But as for the movie, yeah, this was great, and both Jackman and Gyllenhaal were phenomenal here I felt. One of my favorites of the year so far. ๐Ÿ™‚

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    • Cheers Chris! Yeah, I really liked it too and both Jackman and Gyllenhaal really delivered the goods here. It always pleasant when you don’t expect much from a film and it turns out to be solid viewing. That’s what happened with me anyway!

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  15. Cracking stuff Mark and agree with you pretty much point for point. A real slow burner to start with but goes a bit generic in the final third and a little too long. Some great performances though, particularly from Jackman.

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    • Thank you sir! Yeah, the final third kinda ruined it a little for me but it was great up until then and couldn’t really be faulted too much when the rest was so good. Jackman was great. I normally don’t like him but he delivered a powerful bit of acting here.

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  16. I’m a total opposite on Jackman – I thought he ridiculously overacted this one. Jake was great though, easily the best thing about the movie. Love your The Pledge mention – such an underrated gem.

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    • See, that’s how I normally feel about about Jackman. I’m just not a fan, but on this occasion I could understand his rage and desperation. Totally agree on Gyllenhaal though. He was great.

      Glad to hear you’re also a fan of The Pledge. That’s a fantastic film and definitely underrated.

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  17. Hi again Mark! Oh I’m looking forward to the Christmas edition of your trivia post ๐Ÿ˜€

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  18. I loved this movie but it was indeed stretched out a bit. It took me 3 nights to finish watching this. Some fine cuts would have done it much good.

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    • It certainly did suffer a little in its length but the major issue I had wasn’t that it overran but that it lost it’s grip a little. Still a thoroughly good watch, though. Thanks man! ๐Ÿ™‚

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  19. Glad you liked it. One of my favourites from this year. Jake Gyllenhaal gave a remarkable performance this year, as Detective Loki. Beautifully elevating a role that could have been played one-note, adding so much texture to his character. Jackman was great too.

    Honestly, I love anything Roger Deakins does. He’s an incredible cinematographer. Glad you liked his work here.

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    • Gyllenhaal was indeed superb. You’re spot on, his character could have been very two dimensional but he adds so many layers to him. Jackman was very strong too. I was surprised I enjoyed him in this as I normally don’t take to him.

      As for Deakins, everything that man touches is pure gold!

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  20. Before watching Prisoners I read some mixed to fairly good reviews so my expectations were measured. Having recently watched it, I really enjoyed this movie a lot. I agree Jacking is emotionally convincing, a great performance here. I liked the reveal of the person responsible for the kidnapping, often I can spot them right away but not here. Nice review!

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    • Much obliged. Yeah, I thought Jackman was very here and Gyllenhaal was his equal in a more subtle way. It was towards the end that I felt a bit let down, though. The reveal wasn’t too obvious but I did tip it a little while before it came about. Still, it wasn’t the reveal that I didn’t like, it was more the clichรฉd conventions that they resorted to as the film drew to a close.

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  21. Great review! I would really like to see this sometime!

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  22. I’m giving this a watch right now : )

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  23. […] explored in that time; from the nightmarish surrealism of Enemy; his unflinching kidnap thriller Prisoners and his drug cartel, action drama Sicario. If you put aside his forthcoming Blade Runner sequel, […]

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