Trapped in Suburbia

Prisoners

prisoners_ver3

Director: Denis Villeneuve

Cast: Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Maria Bello, Terrence Howard, Viola Davis, Paul Dano, David Dastmalchian

French Canadian director of Foreign language film nominee Incendies Denis Villeneuve weaves a web of intrigue in the deeply disturbing suburban thriller Prisoners extracting a brilliant performance by his two central male leads, Oscar Nominees Hugh Jackman (Les Miserables) and Jake Gyllenhaal (Brokeback Mountain) set in a wintry landscape of Pennsylvania.

Prisoners bleak story revolves around two average American families (the Dovers and the Birches) whose daughters are best friends and after a relaxing Thanksgiving lunch, the girls are playing in the street where they are snatched in mysterious circumstances. The parents of the missing girls Keller Dover and his wife Grace played by Hugh Jackman and Maria Bello and the Birches played by Terrence Howard (Dead Man Down) and Viola Davis (Doubt, The Help) are naturally beside themselves with grief and worry.

In steps the local police Detective Loki, a superb performance by Jake Gyllenhaal who goes on a desperate mission to unravel the mystery of these vanished children, uncovering a whole web of secrets in the closely knitted Pennsylvanian community. The first suspect is the shy Alex Jones, wonderfully played by Paul Dano (Ruby Sparks, There will be Blood) who was parked in a RV that the abducted girls were playing on moments before they went missing, but upon questioning turns out to have a seemingly limited intelligence, covering up an even darker secret.

To complicate the investigation even further the fathers of the missing girls Keller Dover and Franklin Birch capture the scared Alex Jones soon after he is released from police custody and then start torturing him as a prisoner in an abandoned apartment convinced that he knows what happened to the little girls. Detective Loki is meanwhile hot on the trial of another suspect Bob Taylor played by David Dastmalchian, who has a penchant for buying children’s clothes at the local Valuemart.

Prisoners is a disturbing tale of how far a father will go to find his lost daughter and the also the ramifications that an abduction can have on a small town community. This is a disturbing film, slightly depressing as most of it is shot against a slate grey sky of an approaching Pennsylvania winter, but fortunately director Villeneuve has assembled a top notch cast including Oscar winner Melissa Leo (The Fighter) as Alex Jones’s mysterious aunt Holly Jones.

Viewers have to concentrate in this film as the narrative drops clues all the time about who the real culprit is and as the tension mounts a disturbing twist is revealed whereby the hunter becomes the prey, an analogy first introduced in the opening shot when the ultra prepared and slightly neurotic Keller Dover, a wonderfully different performance by Hugh Jackman is teaching his teenage son Ralph how to hunt deer.

Prisoners only crime is that the riveting, yet gap filled narrative could have been more tightly written by screenwriter Aaron Guzikowski and certain scenes definitely required some crisp editing  to make the emotional resonance of the film more astounding.

Prisoners runs for 153 minutes which is fairly long for a suspense drama about child abduction in a murky and seemingly soulless American suburbia. If film goers enjoyed the Oscar winning Mystic River then Prisoners is that type of film although not as good. Disturbing, compelling and scary, Prisoners will take viewers into a maze of intrigue…

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