Denis Villeneuve’s unflinching thriller “Prisoners” marked his entrance into the mainstream-oriented cinema, proving that the Canadian director is not only a talented indie creator, but also knows how to pave his way to Hollywood. Starring Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal, “Prisoners” instantly became one of my favorites in the genre, with the vexing question stated – if I was Keller Dover, would I push the limits as far as he did?
On the Thanksgiving Day, daughters of Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) and Franklin Birch (Terrence Howard) go missing. The investigation is conducted by Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal), a charismatic, yet reclusive and mysterious police officer. As the days are passing by, fathers of the missing girls take the matter into their own hands, whilst Detective Loki is struggling to find a way out of this labirynth of dead ends and multiple leads. Finally, Dover convinces himself, that he’s finally found the man responsible for the crime and, without any boundaries, he wants the truth revealed.
The director brilliantly leads the audience by the nose, deliberately avoiding outright judgments regarding Dover’s relentless efforts in finding his daughter. Villeneuve takes his time to portray the picture of the broken and angry father, magnificently played by Jackman and contrasts him with disconsolated Franklin (Howard puts a great performance too). Even though both men are on the verge, Dover is a symbol of “the end justifies the means” philosophy – there is nothing, that can stop him to protect his family. Although his actions are justifiable and righteous on one hand, he’s winding by himself this spiral of violence, causing collateral damage elsewhere. And this is the point, when Villeneuve’s directorial maturity is the most visible – he’s not trying to exonerate Dover, but intentionally leaves us with the question – where would be your boundary in such situation?
“Prisoners” is fascinatingly directed film. Its somber, obscure cinematography is eye-catching, creating an almost stiffling, hermetic reality. Roger Deakins’ shots are phenomenal as he masters the Manichean game of light and dark, which could be noticed during the candlelight vigil scene or in the priest’s basement. The camera catches the rainy, rather seamy suburbs in a manner, which contributes to the heavy topic of the movie itself. The morally tenebrous plotline is also a neatly-written script by Aaron Guzikowski, whose story digs into the moral aspects of human behavior, when one is pushed to the wall as Dover and, partially, Loki.
“Prisoners” is also a parade of fantastic acting performances. Hugh Jackman, bleary-eyed, bearded and disturbingly frightening, delivers probably the best role of his career (completely snubbed off during Oscar ceremony…). Jake Gyllenhaal’s Loki is truly an acting masterpiece as well, a reclusive yet ambitious and determined officer with an intriguing past. Although these two are putting their hearts and souls into the movie, Paul Dano should not be forgotten, as his character simply creeped me out completely. There is not a single character in Villeneuve’s drama, which sticks out from the overally mezmerizing picture.
On top of that comes the soundtrack composed by Johan Johansson. I personally found it the best film music in 2013, far beyond Hans Zimmer’s acclaimed score to “12 Years a Slave”. The screeching violins accompanied by solemn, ominous electronic background vibrating in the meantime – the music really finds its way to express the dismay and anxiety, the morality being torn apart and the dim light of hope.
“Prisoners” is a common work of many brilliant artists. Even though each of them found a way of expressing the unease of Guzikowski’s script, “Prisoners” is neither defragmented nor unequal as a whole – it constitutes a complete vision. It is heavily inspired by “Seven” by David Fincher and Nolan’s “Insomnia”, but it is not a copy, but a small masterpiece on its own. Finally, it was the movie which eventually – as I hope – forged a great team, which paired up again for “Sicario” – Dennis Villeneuve behind the camera, Deakins doing the cinematography and Johansson composing. It only proves, that the work they did was consistent and worth continuing in a new film.
UMP Grade: 46/50
(Cinematography: 10, Plot: 8.5, Acting: 9.5, Soundtrack: 9, Quaintness: 9)