Prisoners, a mystery thriller about kidnapped children and the attempts of both police and parents to locate them, gets it shock value by not showing the crime but the brutal lengths one parent would go through to get his child back.
Hugh Jackman plays Keller Dover the parent, a survivalist and doomsday prepper ready for any future apocalypse the Lord wants to rain down but unprepared for the banal evil of a human heart that chooses to snatch his little girl away with hardly a trace. Keller loses sight of the fact that the retribution one must worry about is often of the human kind. That one slip in his plan tears him apart with guilt and pushes him over the edge of his moral divide-- to kidnapping and torture when a lack of evidence forces the police to release the main person of interest (Paul Dano), an adult with the mental age of a 10-year-old whose van was seen parked near the house where the abduction occurred.
Jake Gyllenhaal is Detective Loki, the rational police officer patiently following the clues and trusting his hunches, his frequent eye twitches hinting a deeper obsession inside him. The role is a closeted version of the cartoonist/librarian hero, the rescuer of knowledge from powerlessness that he played in David Fincher's brilliant Zodiac.
Even though Prisoners is set in Pittsburgh, most of it was shot in rural Conyers, Georgia and the creeping in-distinction between forest and suburb that exist in a mixture of decay and abandonment either vacated or left unfinished is a constant visual theme that is enhanced by veteran lenser's Roger A. Deakins moody and darkly symbolic cinematography. The town and its people seem to exist in a space where superstition has replaced hope.
Prisoners carefully treads the line between moral exploration and exploitation. Director Denise Villeneuve (Incendies) spends more time on the moral traps that lead away than the actual mystery of where the kidnapped girls are. Jackman is the emotional man trying to contain the world with the illogic of fear, hoping it will burst the truth, never realizing that monsters don't know truth at all. Once emotion has exhausted itself, logic, in the form of Detective Loki can see the right path. The irony was that both of them were right, just not close enough.
The ending is pure horror movie contrivance, a bit of a let down from the previous 120 minutes of briskly, expertly executed tension.
Prisoners gets a B+ from me.
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