By Ohad Amram Columnist
“Prisoners” is by far the most captivating and mesmerizing American thriller since David Fincher’s “Se7en.”
Denis Villeneuve solidifies his claim to the throne in directing epic crime dramas with “Prisoners.” Villeneuve, an Oscar nominee for best foreign language film in 2011 for “Incendies,” teams with promising, up-and-coming screenwriter Aaron Guzikowski (“Contraband”). Together they deliver a tightly wrapped and concise gem of suspenseful cinema.
The brilliant film has a star-studded cast, and is executed well on a variety of levels.
Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) sets the tone of the film in the opening scene where he and his son are hunting deer. Dover makes every attempt to bestow knowledge and wisdom on his son through faith and religion.
Terror ensues when Dover and his neighbors’ daughters both go missing without a single shred of evidence. The first obvious suspect, Alex Jones (Paul Dano), is immediately detained and questioned by Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) but isn’t found guilty after a 48-hour hold.
Once Jones is released, “Prisoners” is divided into two quests where the actors have the same motive. Detective Loki – an archetypical noir detective who’s solved every case brought his way – fights his internal conflict of being a mediocre detective. In the second quest, Dover takes matters into his own hands and terrorizes Jones, holding the suspect captive despite a lack of concrete evidence proving the young man guilty.
The obstacles that each character must overcome paralyze and taunt them, essentially holding the characters “Prisoners” to themselves. For example, the Dovers’ neighbors, the Birches, struggle with the ethical conundrum that torturing Jones is immoral. The dark themes prevalent throughout the film – faith in man and man’s relationship with religion – are complemented by the dark and eerie setting in the quiet, rural town in which the film is set.
Enthralling cinematography and a compellingly layered storyline are but a few things deeming this film to be a definite Oscar contender come awards season. The performances delivered by Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal display tremendous range and maturity.
Gyllenhaal plays a familiar role as Detective Loki. Recently Gyllenhaal played an officer in “End of Watch” and a detective in another Fincher classic, “Zodiac,” Gyllenhaal proves his ability to execute as an authoritative figure in thrilling dramas.
That said, leading in the role of Dover, is simply a Jackman unseen before. Although at times reminiscent of his character Wolverine, with outbursts of rage, audiences have likely not seen such a performance by Jackman in such a genre as “Prisoners.”
The advantage of having such a simplistic setting for the film – literally comprised of a neighborhood, a select few houses and acres of woods – is that the rest of your budget can go into casting such powerful performers. Many of these terrific actors and actresses such as Viola Davis as Nancy Birch, Terrance Howard as Franklin Birch and Maria Bello as Dover’s wife were somewhat underplayed. In fact the only strong female role of the film is displayed by Melissa Leo in the film’s concluding moments. However, the driving force of the film isn’t entirely based on these supporting characters so it isn’t imperative that they have the leisure to fully utilize their roles.
The well-paced, true to reality, 150-minute duration of the film is nearly unflawed. The prevailing concern of “Prisoners” questions human morality and perseverance in times of incomprehensible evil. It is arguably the best time you’ll have at the theaters this year, or ever.