July 28, 2015

Prisoners (2013)
Grade: 74/100

Director: Denis Villeneuve
Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Hugh Jackman, Paul Dano

What it's about. A tense and unpleasant crime drama concerning the fate of two kidnapped preteenaged girls, Joy Birch (Kyla Drew Simmons) and Anna Dover (Erin Gerasimovich). Anna's father Keller (Hugh Jackman) is a survivalist with a take-charge personality. His wife Grace (Maria Bello) is passive and descends into depression. Joy's father Franklin (Terrence Howard) is a milquetoast compared to Keller, but his wife Nancy (Viola Davis) is of sterner stuff.

The girls are kidnapped during a Thanksgiving visit between the Dover and Birch families. They simply disappear, and the chief suspect is Alex (Paul Dano), a strange young man whose van was parked nearby. Alex is promptly arrested by workaholic police detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal), but he fails to wilt under questioning, and since there is no physical evidence, he is released.

This angers Keller, who is convinced of Alex's guilt. He abducts Alex and makes him a prisoner in an abandoned building owned by Keller. He still won't talk, despite days of torture and confinement. Meanwhile, Loki's investigation progresses. He arrests a priest (Len Cariou) who claims to have murdered a child abductor and killer. Loki also locates and arrests a person of interest, Bob Taylor (David Dastmalchian), who unfortunately commits suicide before he can talk. At a dead end, Loki suspects Keller, rescues Alex, and finally, confronts Alex's "mother" Holly (Melissa Leo).

How others will see it. Given its content, Prisoners did fairly well at the box office, and was undeniably a success in its video release. The various awards festivals gave famous actors Jackson and Gyllenhaal less notice than expected. Instead, cinematographer Roger Deakins received the sole Oscar nomination.

Due to its body count, scenes of torture, and theme of child abduction, the movie is too intense for many viewers, and hardly suitable for family viewing. Nonetheless, Prisoners has a whopping 310K user votes at imdb.com, and a lofty user rating of 8.1 out of 10. Curiously, there is no gender spread, but the rating does decline with advancing age, from 8.7 to 7.7. But any disapproval from older viewers is muted: only 1.3% dish out a one-out-of-ten grade, the traditional backlash from the offended.

How I felt about it. So many odd things occur during the movie that one wonders whether the director intended the filming of a bad dream. It's undeniably well made, and highly watchable, but it doesn't always make much sense.

The most illogical moment is the reappearance of kidnapped girl Joy. Where did the police find her? Did Holly Jones simply release her? The preceding scene has Loki finding a child's sock in the dirt near a house.

What's with the snakes, mazes, and pig blood? A frail-looking, mild-mannered, white-haired woman is a serial child kidnapper and murderer? Because she became a Satanist after her own child died? Why drug and hide children, for weeks, if your motive is simply to murder them?

Alex is interrogated by Loki for many hours, then is tortured by Keller for a week, yet he doesn't talk aside from a couple of odd mutterings? He would sing like a songbird. Who wouldn't?

Keller eventually takes both Franklin and Nancy to the house where he is confining and torturing Alex. Yet neither call the police? Do they want to become accessory to murder, which seems the likely outcome of Keller's treatment of Alex.

What priest would murder a confessor, and leave the body in his basement? Is Loki the only detective in the city's police force? Does he ever sleep? Is he allowed to break and enter at will without securing a search warrant?

Overall, the movie is less of a gripping crime drama, and more like a nightmare from which you cannot awaken, a dark fun house that somehow ends up with all the major players unharmed, save for the mysterious Holly Jones.