Prisoners (2013) Review

This really isn’t the type of movie you want to hear spoilers for if you haven’t seen it for yourself already. If you don’t want spoilers, just know it’s a great film and you should watch it if you like crime thrillers. Expect something sombre, gritty and subversive. If you don’t care or have seen it already, then I hope you enjoy the review.

When Anna Dover and her friend are kidnapped, and the police investigation led by Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) doesn’t get the quick an immediate results that the families had hoped for, distraught father Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) takes the law into his own hands by becoming a kidnapper himself. By kidnapping and torturing a suspect dismissed by the police, obsessed with the knowledge that the suspect may know more than he’s letting on, Keller compromises all his morals and boundaries in a desperate attempt to locate his daughter. But as suspicion mounts against Keller, in light of his actions, Detective Loki’s focus is split between unravelling his secret and finding the lost girls.

Undoubtedly the best thing about Prisoners is how it doesn’t pull any punches; Kidnapped girls is a serious premise for a film and it is indeed taken as seriously as can be here, and then pushed further. Keller, whose confused rage and distraught is expertly conveyed by Hugh Jackman, is by far the highlight of the film. I think it has something to do with how this character subverts the typical Hollywood depictions of desperate fathers trying to rescue their daughters – Whether it’s Bruce Willis killing dozens of faceless goons to save his daughter from cyber terrorists, or Brad Pitt navigating an actual zombie apocalypse to secure the safety of his family, the typical approach to the desperate father trope is that so long as the father acts with their family’s best interests at heart then they can do nothing wrong. Prisoners subverts that entirely by presenting us with the much more realistic, and frighteningly relatable idea, that in real life it is probably the desperate people who are more likely to do the most depraved things. When it revealed to us that the man Keller has kidnapped, tortured and refused to feed for over a week not only wasn’t involved in the kidnapping but was in fact himself a past victim of the kidnapper, whose learning disability was exploited to leverage control over him, it’s hard not condemn everything about Keller’s character. Especially when one considers Keller was aware of this disability, that Detective Loki even interviewed the released suspect a second time as a favour to Keller (only to find nothing), and that people who knew of Keller’s kidnapping (who are equally condemnable for not ratting him out) also proposed the idea that Keller should trust what the police say. For all his good intentions, it’s very hard to mount any form of defence for him. And yet somehow, someway, the film manages to keep you not only invested in Keller but also sympathetic towards him in a way that doesn’t follow traditional media trends about fathers.

But by far and wide, Detective Loki is the most sympathetic character in this whole ordeal. Throughout the entire film he gets nothing but absolute crap from his boss, other tired policemen, the upset families and just about anyone he considers a suspect in spite of the fact he is the only one in the film who does the right thing consistently. There isn’t a waking moment where he isn’t looking over evidence, knocking on doors, taking interviews or even pursing suspects and yet he is constantly at the butt-end of everything bad that happens in the film – Especially when he has reason to believe Keller is hiding an insidious secret and is forced to have his attention drawn away from the missing children’s case in order to ensure the safety of other people. The result of all this is a character whose temper is so thin that for the entire second half of the film you feel as though he could snap at any moment – Which is what happens when he throws an elderly man he’s arrested to the floor and starts shouting questions down his ear, when he puts a dent in a guy’s face when he goes to his house to arrest him and ultimately when he gets the only person available to him who might know the location of the missing girls killed. And despite always being rewarded with more leads and evidence for every part of the investigation he pursues, he is still talked down by people like Keller who assume he’s not doing anywhere near his best to locate the girls. By the end of the film, Detective Loki is just a desperate mess of his former self who can no longer prevent the constant criticism from breaking him down. And only is it by the last thread of his patience, and in thanks to his previous pursuits of evidence, that he is eventually able do his job and solve the case. I haven’t seen Jake Gyllenhaal in a lot of films, but I still feel confident in saying that he made this role as good as it was and the movie probably wouldn’t have been the same if someone else was cast in it.

And for what is, at its heart, a crime thriller about pursuing leads and uncovering secrets, a lot of time is devoted to the characters and their progression over the plot which, in this case, I found made the film all the more better. Specifically, a lot of focus is put on communicating how Keller and Detective Loki are essentially polar opposite characters, who express their desperation if frighteningly similar ways, which pays off extremely well in every scene the two share together. Admittedly they don’t share all that much screen time, but what little they do are some of the best scenes in the film and are the moments that I consider worth watching it for.

Unfortunately there are some weak links about the film. The stand out weak link is Keller’s son who is hardly in the movie at all, but somehow always made me annoyed when he was. It might be because he’s played by Dylan Minnette (13 Reasons Why, Percy Jackson) who I’ve never really thought was particularly good at acting in anything I’ve seen him in. Granted this might just be my personal bias, but his character wasn’t exactly as groundbreakingly entertaining to see on screen as Keller or Detective Loki were – He was just a device by which the writers could make Keller feel guilty for leaving his family alone all day while they mourn so he can torture someone.

Another gripe I had is that when Detective Loki has an outburst that gets his primary suspect killed, I feel as though that scene came out of left field. That isn’t to say Detective Loki’s actions were out of character or anything, or that they hadn’t been built up to, just that when it happened it felt a little too abrupt and forced. More time seemed spent of the fallout of the event rather than the immediate build up to it within the same scene, which felt a little jarring to me.

As a whole product though, these complaints are very minor and don’t take away from the film at all. This is a very solid movie and a tense, enjoyable watch. I would highly recommend it if you haven’t seen it already, and get ready to feel really bad for the positions certain characters are put into.

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