By Mark Saldana 

Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)

Denis Villeneuve’s  first major Hollywood feature film does adopt some of the usual tropes of crime thrillers, but at the same time, takes its time realistically developing its characters and story.  Perhaps the film takes too much time meticulously examining almost every facet of its plot and story. Still, the engrossing story and script by Aaron Guzikowski, Villeneuve’s skillful direction, and the mostly phenomenal performances by the cast make Prisoners a must see even though some of the major beats are all too familiar.

Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) is a tough, but loving father who always strives to prepare for the worst; even though he prays for the best.  Despite his readiness for most situations, good or bad, nothing really prepares Dover for the disappearance of his youngest child Anna (Erin Gerasimovich) and her best friend Joy Birch (Kyla Drew Simmons).  Police Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) diligently investigates into the matter, but neither his extensive efforts nor the work of the police department provide any comfort to Dover who desperately wants his daughter back. He decides to take matters into his own hands when a mentally disabled suspect named Alex Jones (Paul Dano) gets released after questioning.

One of the main strengths of Villeneuve’s movie comes from how incredibly he, Guzikowski, and his cast fully realize their characters. Yes, there are good and bad people in the story, but these lines begin to blur when the good behave abhorrently and when the bad people are given back stories which explain why they have sunk so low in life. The other virtue comes from how well Villeneuve (Incendies) builds the tension and delivers the thrills when he’s firing on all cylinders.  The movie does drag on a bit too long due to its tangled web of a plot, but when the drama or action kicks in, audiences will be definitely feel their pulses race. Prisoners also has some difficult and gruesome scenes, but definitely not as graphic or gory as some crime thrillers get. Villenueve seems to have a “less is more” sensibility in his presentation of violence and brutality.  He presents enough to effectively shock, but knows when to tone it down.

Jake Gyllenhaal should have adopted this quality with his performance as Detective Loki. Throughout the film, he delivers a credible turn as the determined and cocksure investigator, but inexplicably adopts an irritating and distracting facial tic. In fact, I liked just about everything about his performance except that annoying eye blink which comes across as forced and unnatural. Hugh Jackman, on the other hand delivers an exceptionally fierce performance as Keller Dover, a man with whom all audiences can empathize. That is until his character makes some highly questionable decisions. The movie also features Viola Davis, Maria Bello, Terrence Howard, Melissa Leo, Paul Dano, and David Mastalchian. All of whom perform exceptionally.

It is because of these performances, how well their characters are written and because of the fastidious direction that I must highly recommend this film. I’m unsure if Prisoners will make it into my top ten films of 2013, but I have a feeling that it will be in at least the top twenty.  I would have given the film a higher rating had Gyllenhaal offered a less quirky performance, and if Villeneuve and his editors had tightened up the finished product. Nevertheless, Prisoners is definitely worth a full priced visit to the cinema.

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