This is typically the time of year when studios are all out of big-budget blockbusters to parade around, but aren't quite ready to cast out their award bait either. The result is a cinematically sterile autumn every year, which is a little sad since this is my favorite time of year. To my surprise, Prisoners proved a welcome break from the nothing interesting going on.
The movie is about two families whose daughters mysteriously disappear. Time goes by and the police investigation looks increasingly unpromising, so one father (Jackman) decides to take matters into his own hands and track down the person he feels is responsible.
This movie is a nice little chiller put on a slow burn. Everything is carefully measured and restrained. This, I think, is its biggest strength. Without it, the movie would have been merely a variation on Taken, only without the fun of having no shame. The movie is relentlessly rainy, and I think cinematographer Roger Deakins goes to town with it. The whole thing looks beautiful (but really, like rainy shots in autumn ever don't) and immediately has a constant mood. This has everything to do with the power of the images created, and is commendable.
The plot, for the most part, matches the control exhibited in the movie's craft. It is all intentional, from its formulaic setup to its almost immediate turnaround. It keeps twisting and descending into this macabre little maze you want to find your way out of. It is certainly enveloping and immersive.
That said, I think the major weakness of the movie was the characters. The acting is good, even at times commendable, but the material the actors were given wasn't completely realized. It feels like writer Aaron Guzikowski got started on a lot of cool things but didn't finish them in time. For as well as everything comes off, having characters as depthless as these was a little disappointing.
By the end, though, it turns out to be pretty satisfying. There is enough thematic material and plot turns going on to outweigh the underbaked character or two. At any rate it beats the pants off of anything else you will find out there this week. Its subtlety of storytelling is something that is hard to find these days, and makes it at least a pretty unique, if not a special, movie experience.
Prisoners features Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Terrence Howard, Viola Davis, Maria Bello, Paul Dano and Melissa Leo, and is rated R for swears but not as much violence as you might expect.
Writer: Aaron Guzikowski
Director: Denis Villeneuve
by Chase Harrison