Sunday, December 29, 2013

Movie with Abe: Prisoners

Directed by Denis Villeneuve
Released September 20, 2013 / DVD December 17, 2013

There are few things more upsetting than the thought of a child disappearing and his or her parents not knowing what happened or where they are. This dark thriller isn’t meant to appease though who shudder at the idea, and those who aren’t in the mood for a grim, brooding drama should steer clear of this film. “Prisoners” is a multi-faceted exploration of guilt, suspicion, determination, and law enforcement that seeks to deliver a resounding and affecting experience. While that doesn’t quite happen, there are elements of “Prisoners” that make it worthwhile and intriguing.

Hugh Jackman stars as Keller, a father of two who walks his wife (Maria Bello), son, and daughter over to the home of their neighbors Franklin (Terrence Howard) and Nancy (Viola Davis) down the street. The mood is foreboding and eerie from the start, and it doesn’t take too long to realize, as if the title wasn’t enough, that the young daughters of both families will be taken by the unknown occupant of a mysterious RV parked outside Franklin and Nancy’s house. After they are taken, a suspect, the childlike Alex (Paul Dano) is brought in, and Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) is on the case, trying desperately to find the girls while managing an uncooperative suspect and Keller, the fervent father who would do anything to find his daughter.

“Prisoners” starts out bleakly and never manages to overcome its moody nature. While the film isn’t meant to be likeable, it’s hard to connect with such a depressing situation portrayed in this manner. Keller in particular demonstrates few commendable qualities other than his dedication to his family, and it becomes even more difficult to consider him a sympathetic protagonist when he abducts Alex and begins to try to beat the truth out of him. Loki is similarly unendearing, and having such prickly so-called “good guys” makes Alex one of the film’s most likeable characters. That dimension of the film is somewhat effective, though it wouldn’t have hurt to see Keller evolve from a genuinely nice person into a hammer-wielding interrogator.

The cast of “Prisoners” leaves something to be desired. Jackman can sing, dance, and use mutant claws with gusto, but here he plays Keller too energetically, drowning in his forced American accent and barely pausing to take a breath. Bello and Oscar winner Melissa Leo, who plays Alex’s guardian, have been much better in other similar roles, as has Davis. Dano is a good fit for Alex, completely capable of isolating himself into a world that seems far removed from this film, and Gyllenhaal delivers an unexpectedly brash performance that has deservedly earned him accolades, showing that he is open to playing new kinds of characters. There are few positive things to remember about the film, and the negative moments are not as fulfilling as they should be in this well-intentioned, mildly-executed film.


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