A film that has gone mostly unnoticed from the public except for a few under-the-breath praises from the critical scene, Prisoners is high minded mystery-thriller that challenges our own sense of morality. Other lower films that aim to scare with the use of paranormal and possessions don’t do anything to the degree that Prisoners does. It really attacks the heart of our fear: having one of our loved and defenseless ones taken away. How would we react? And how far would we go to see them back?
The action begins on Thanksgiving Day as two families come together for dinner. Keller Dover’s (Hugh Jackman) and Franklin Birch’s (Terrance Howard) families mirror each other with similar aged children. When the two small girls leave the safety of the house, they disappear with only the clue of a stray RV spotted earlier. Rightfully so, Keller is dead determined to rescue his daughter at all costs and by all means. The RV and its owner, Alex Jones (Paul Dano) are found by Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) leading into an extensive investigation that hits numerous roadblocks. Partly at fault is Alex’s lower IQ which makes him less capable of understanding questions.
This is where the two styles of the movies meet and intermingle effectively in the middle third. Keller keeps pursuing his instinct that Alex has the two girls in captive even if Alex isn’t giving any way to his supposed knowledge. His highly-questionable methods are coupled with Loki’s investigation which creates very thrilling dynamics. And for my money, this was great.
But that’s as far as it goes. The last third-ish is straight up mystery and who-dun-it story that just gets lost in its own mess. It’s like it was trying to be too clever for its own good that the complexity at least lost me with its own smarts. From a good mystery, everything should culminate into one huge revelation. Although it was trying to do that, it still left many loose threads that just furthered my confusion.
The mark of truly good movie is how it can make the viewer feel. Whether if it’s an over-load of laughter or gut-wrenching pain, what happens on the screen should effect you. And boy, does Prisoners do that. From the first few scenes I was genuinely frightened. And this is coming from someone who doesn’t have any children. You can feel Jackman’s agony as his pursuits hit walls at every path.
That being said, if it had been more focused on what it was trying to be, either a strong character study or a coherent mystery, it would have been outstanding. I just wish they focused on the former, as Jackman was mildly short changed by not homing strictly on his struggle.