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Be wary of intense drama in ‘Prisoners’

Click for larger imageFrom the moment the trailers of Prisoners hit the airwaves the intrigue about the film built. Children kidnapped, an evil person on the loose, a crazed dad that would do “anything” to find his daughter and an excellent cast propelled Prisoners to a good box-office opening.

Keller Dover (Jackman) is a carpenter in Pennsylvania liv- ing a satisfying life with his wife Grace (Maria Bello), their son Ralph (Dylan Minnette) and young daughter Anna (Erin Gerasimovich). When their friends Nancy (Viola Davis) and Franklin (Terrence Howard) Birch invite them over for Thanksgiving, everyone is happy.

Screenwriter Aaron Guzikowski has skillfully thought out every scene. The family prays the Lord's Prayer together and the song “Put Your Hand in the Hand of The Man Who Stilled the Water” plays in the background. As they all settle in after a great dinner, Joy (Kyla Drew Simmons), the Birch's daughter, and Anna beg to go out and play. 

In opening scenes Keller and Franklin take the girls for a walk around the peaceful snow- dusted neighborhood. When they encounter a motorhome parked in front of a vacant house, the girls run up to jump on the ladder in the back. It's a moment that will eventually chill Keller to the bone.

When the girls ask to go to the Dover home to fetch something, they never return and are missing. Anxious moments turn into hours, and Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) is assigned the case. Keller has little patience as days tick by with no leads.

When Alex (Paul Dano), the man who lives in the motorhome, is arrested, the case seems solved. He's a very odd person suffering from some mental problems but there isn't enough evidence to hold him so he's released.

Keller is positive this is the kidnapper and knows the girls will not survive if not found soon. He takes action on his own. He captures Alex, hides him, and begins a relentless daily torture – that for me be- came a little too gruesome. Franklin joins Keller at first but then tries to stop the torture with no luck.

Loki discovers other suspects and pursues them while also continuing to investigate to Alex though his offbeat Aunt Holly (Melissa Leo).

Prisoners is a tad long, has disturbing content, and a few cracks in the plot, but it's a solid film from scene one. The entire cast is superb, due again to screenplay. Bello creates a mother so distraught that her daughter might be dead that she goes into a deep depression staying in bed day and night, which cleverly leaves her out of the way for Keller to proceed with this plan. 

One can feel that Jackman -- a favorite of fans – could feel this threat deep down. Paul Dano has little dialogue but knows how to expertly create a character that easily arouses suspicion and surprise. Remember There Will be Blood?

Denis Villeneuve’s direction is seamless and Roger Deakins’ excellent cinematography makes every scene feel as if you were in it.

Reel Facts


Warner Bros.

Gazette Grade:

for disturbing violent content including torture, and language throughout

Who Should Go:
Those who like mystery and drama.

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