Prisoners, Denis Villeneuve, Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal

Movie Review: Prisoners (2013)

Hugh Jackman, PrisonersSurely there can be no greater horror in this world than harm done to a child.  I don’t think of anything that raises more dread or horror in me instantly than the prospect of harm being done to a child.  It’s late at night here in the States as I write this.  I’m writing as much to try to cope with what I’m feeling as to review this movie, because no film has left me so disturbed, shaken and wrenched as this did in years.  Probably since the last time Denis Villeneuve made a film (Incendies, which made a list I made a while back of Top 5 Best Movies I Never Want to See Again.  I’ll have to revise that, because Prisoners was worse.

It’s hard to separate the feeling from the evaluation of the art, but Villeneuve has some kind of ability to tap into the darkest and vilest parts of human nature and peel them back slowly, as layers from an onion until you’re left starkly gaping at what humans are capable of becoming, of committing, of being.

Prisoners, Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Denis Villenueve

Prisoners begins with a Thanksgiving between two families of friends, but quickly slips celebration to frantic tragedy as the two youngest girls in each family go missing.  Police arrest a man in a RV who was seen near the disappearance (Paul Dano), but the lead detective (Jake Gyllenhal) has to cut him loose after a 48 hour hold turns up no evidence to charge him.

Prisoners, Paul Dano, Jake Gyllenhaal

Convinced, beyond all doubt, that this man took his daughter, one father (Hugh Jackman), kidnaps the man and imprisons him, determined to get from him what the police couldn’t.  The two parents of the other girl (Terrence Howard and Viola Davis) also become complicit in the interrogation.   They continue to question Dano and Gyllenhaal searches desperately against a ticking clock for the missing children while balancing growing suspicions about the parents’ actions.

That’s all I will say about the plot.  From that point, the spiral into unspeakable human behavior, pain and suffering in ways and from directions both predictable and completely unexpected, takes the viewers on a white-knuckled ride to a chilling and brilliantly executed finale.

Paul Dano, Terrence Howard, Hugh Jackman, Prisoners

Hugh Jackman has done plenty of films as Wolverine, and that’s what he’ll be most remembered for when his career is complete.  Make no mistake about the level of his talent, though.  Jackman in last year’s Les Miserables and here in Prisoners shows himself among the best actors in the world.  The entire cast is stellar.  Paul Dano, Melissa Leo, Gyllenhaal, Maria Bello and the entire ensemble deserve praise, but Jackman’s vengeful and desperate father is the razor this movie slides down.

It’s hard to recommend Prisoners.  “Hey, do you want to be incredibly engaged and simultaneously shaken to the very core of your soul?  Here’s Prisoners!”  I’m sitting on my couch looking at our Christmas tree and the sight and the experience are so incongruous that the juxtaposition itself seems wrong.  Prisoners may be the best movie I’ve seen this year, but it’s also a film experience so scarring that to give it a “10″ somehow seems wrong.  I don’t know why.  I’m still working it all out as best I can.  I don’t think I’ll ever quite get there.
9.75/10

 

4 thoughts on “Movie Review: Prisoners (2013)”

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  2. I loved this movie, and this review captured it so well. I have thought about reviewing it, but I’ve struggled to find the right way to describe it, but I like how you said that it hard to recommend; although I loved it, it is just so intense and uncomfortable. I thought also Gyllenhaal gave an incredible performance, it was one of his most engaging characters that I have seen.

    1. It is one of the hardest reviews I’ve ever had to write both because of the subject matter and because of capturing in words the intensity and horror without making it sound cheap, because it’s not, it’s so artfully done that you don’t realize the horror until you’re hip deep in it. I’m still thinking about the ending. I don’t know if I could ever watch it again, and, like you said, you have to slap a warning sticker on a recommendation, but this was overlooked. Gyllenhal was great. Leo was loathesome, but to be so evil requires you to go to a place I can’t even imagine as an actress. Jackman’s rage in this film I think got written off as angry Wolverine rage, but it had nothing to do with Wolverine. This was a father who was IN CONTROL of his family and their safety and he had that disillusionment ripped from him and that rage is much more frightening. Paul Dano also had a completely thankless role and delivered. Villeneuve has made two films and both are 10′s and both are shattering. If you haven’t seen Incendies, It IS worth watching. I just want this guy to get on some xanax and do Smurfs 3 for two years for his own health.

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