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Prisoners - Review

Prisoners

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

SELDOM easy to watch, yet displaying an emotional complexity that’s been sorely missing from a lot of mainstream thrillers of late, Prisoners is an unrelenting thriller with genuine staying power.

When two young girls go missing from their suburban homes during Thanksgiving, the police are quick to pick up a suspect (Paul Dano).

But when a lack of evidence prompts his release, one of the girl’s fathers (Hugh Jackman) feels compelled to take the law into his own hands, placing him at odds with the lead investigator (Jake Gyllenhaal) and his own conscience.

Directed with often grim intensity by French-Canadian Denis Villeneuve (whose last film, Incendies, was Oscar-nominated), Prisoners is the type of film that isn’t afraid to put its audience in uncomfortable situations or to ask probing questions of them.

Fuelled by Aaron Guzikowski’s twisting, layered script, this confronts attitudes to violence, the fallibility of the law and abuse of power (especially in a post 9/11 world where the spectre of torture to obtain answers refuses to go away), while examining the complexity of some of the emotions at play.

And powerhouse performances from Jackman and Gyllenhaal also help contribute to a film that exhibits a vice-like grip from start to finish.

Jackman, especially, is on career-redefining form. We’re used to his muscular and intense Wolverine, but in Prisoners this is cranked up to desperation levels… his God-fearing father (who lives by the motto of expecting for the best but preparing for the worst) a sweeping tornado of anger, fear and eventual self-loathing. If he was Oscar nominated for Les Miserables earlier this year, the Academy should be taking notice again.

But Gyllenhaal also excels, his jittery, loner detective a compelling and fiercely driven presence who must wrestle with his own demons [and restrictions] in order to crack the case. The scenes between the two actors rate among the film’s most compelling.

That’s not to say the film isn’t without flaws. While due care and attention is paid to the primary characters, Villeneuve loosens his grip on some of the support, with Terence Howard and Viola Davis feeling particularly short-changed as the other parents whose daughter has been kidnapped.

Certain plot devices also feel contrived, while not everything in the third act seems to make sense… the climax may well leave certain questions unanswered in viewers’ minds.

But placing such shortcomings to one side, Prisoners deserves a lot of credit for its gutsy refusal to make things easy for viewers and for the way in which it successfully lingers long after the final credits have rolled.

It’s a consistently unsettling, emotionally draining affair that still rates among the best thrillers of the year.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 146mins
UK Release Date: September 27, 2013