This Scandinavian psychological horror examines grief with an unsettling plot about two parents attacked by a sideshow trio, over and over.
Prisoners. 2013. Dir. Denis Villeneuve. Written by Aaron Guzikowski.
Starring Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis, Terrence Howard, Maria Bello, Melissa Leo, and Paul Dano. Warner Brothers Pictures. 14A. 153 minutes.
★★★ (Blu ray release)
Denis Villeneuve has been on my radar ever since I was first able to see Polytechnique; a great little film about the awful Montreal Massacre on December 6th in 1989. Of course he’s also directed several other fascinating films including Incendies and another recent film again with Jake Gyllenhaal, the unique and, for some, the confusing Enemy. When I heard he was doing a film with both Hugh Jackman and Gyllenhaal, I got really interested. First of all because Villeneuve has a real talent for dark subject matter. Second, I love Gyllenhaal. After first seeing photos from production and the trailer, I couldn’t believe the look he had going for this film; it was thrilling. And last but not least, I think Jackman is underrated. Sure, he’s in tons of big budget films, and people know him very well, but I don’t think he exactly gets the praise he deserves. However, Prisoners changes the trajectory of his career, and I believe people should notice how good an actor he really is. While the entire film is also just about perfect, all these things come together to make Prisoners a dark modern classic.
We’ve seen the story here probably more than we care to: young girls are kidnapped, police except for one crusader are inept, one of the parents takes the law into their own hands. Yet even though the story seems familiar, the plot Guzikowski weaves through it goes into very deep, dark territory. It isn’t the same thing we see time and time again. There’s something in Prisoners that taps into our fears, and it does so easily.
Essentially this is a lot like other thrillers on the same subject. Where Prisoners excels is the acting, cinematography, and of course the writing. The script is tight. Honestly, it kept me guessing until late in the game. What really gets me here is Roger Deakins. If you don’t know the Deak then what are you doing to yourself? I don’t even want to start listing the great films he has done as Director of Photography. Okay, okay, here’s a few: Sid and Nancy, Homicide, Barton Fink, The Shawshank Redemption, The Hudsucker Proxy, Fargo, O Brother Where Art Thou?, House of Sand and Fog, Jarhead, No Country for Old Men, and the film adaptation of Doubt, among many others. Deakins has an absolutely flawless eye for beauty on film. The way he does things is phenomenal. Prisoners has a very dark, gritty quality to it, but yet it is still pristine looking. The tone is absolutely set with the way Deakins shoots things. Villeneuve and Deakins must have had a grand time working together.
Although Jackman is probably seen to be the star of the show, as his role is central to the plot, I think Gyllenhaal is the real star. Not that his performance is actually better than Jackman’s own, I just think his character is the most important.
Gyllenhaal plays Detective David Loki, although his first name can only be seen on his business card. Of course, a lot of people automatically pinned Loki as the eventual culprit in the kidnapping of the two girls; his surname is deceptive, and naturally many thought it was a key to some answers. First off, any screenwriter who would actually name the villain in their film Loki is way too ham fisted. It should be obvious, sooner than later, Detective Loki’s name is just a red herring. The character is far too interesting to write off with simple character nims. We get glimpses of Loki’s tattoos, as they’re all over his body. At one point, you can clearly tell Loki is wearing a Masonic ring implying he is most likely a member of the Masonic Lodge (for those conspiracy theorists out there this is just another herring – regular Masons, such as my father and grandfather and a ton of other people I know, are not taking over the world, they are meeting at lodges and doing community work such as fundraising and other things – but here it is meant, again, to throw you off from figuring out the real criminal). There are so many tiny eccentricities about Gyllnehaal’s portrayal of Detective Loki you could go on and on for days. It’s just one of the things, aside from Gyllnehaal’s excellent performance, that makes Loki work perfectly as a character in this film.
Jackman, on the other hand, plays the simple character of Keller Dover. I only say simple because he doesn’t have any flair; there are no little mysterious bits about Dover. He is a man who has lost his daughter, and is willing to go to any lengths necessary needed to find her and bring her home. The intensity Jackman brings is no surprise. He strikes me as an intense actor once he gets going. What does surprise me are the quieter moments. And they are there. Some people pass the performance off as all brash, loud scenes with Jackman yelling, growling, et cetera.
What they neglect are the small moments. The few in the beginning with his son. Little moments in the middle. As well as some powerful, subtle scenes nearing the very end. It isn’t all outright intensity. There are some really small and touching bits we get out of Jackman. Although, my favourite scene is when Dover is interrogating a man he believes to be the kidnapper of his and his friend’s children, and there’s a hammer involved. I don’t want to ruin it – it’s not really violent in the sense someone gets hurt with the hammer – but it is totally worth it to see this part. I didn’t expect it. It was one of those scenes I actually paused and imagined how the other actors reacted to his performance. I can’t imagine there wasn’t at least ONE person who was genuinely frightened by Jackman after those takes. Apparently Villeneuve coaxed Jackman into being more vicious, and this take was the next one he did; of course, it made its way right into the film. Rightfully so.
I cannot find anything I don’t like about Prisoners. As a film, I can happily and confidently give it a 5 star rating. There will always be differing opinions, on any movie. I just don’t see how you can’t enjoy this one. The acting, even the supporting roles and smaller bits, was wonderful. The script, while centered on a topic often covered in film, is fresh, and doesn’t go down all the same roads other films tend to travel on; some may disagree again, but we’ll have to amiably agree to disagree. I think the plot here, the writing, the acting – it all works to create a really amazing, dark, and exciting film.
I especially love the end. Villeneuve could have went several ways on it, but the ending is beautiful. It is a quiet, subdued ending. It even gives an air of hope, even if things are grim. Even if they may still come out grim after all. But the finale gives a glimmer of hope, and I enjoy that. Though I do enjoy all things dark and gritty, this film really gave the ending the right touch with just enough hope while still leaving things on an ambiguous note.
On the contrary, I can only give Prisoners a 3 out of 5 stars in regards to the Blu ray release. The picture itself? Absolutely gorgeous. The cinematography really jumps out at you on this release. I can’t complain whatsoever about the picture or the sound; it’s all perfect. Though there is a complete lack of any real interesting extras on the disc. There are two small featurettes which give you some interviews with the cast and crew, but other than that there isn’t anything. They aren’t particularly long either. So the release itself isn’t amazing, aside from the picture quality of course, and if that wasn’t perfect then there’d be no real reason to want the Blu ray anyways – quality is expected when it comes to the visuals. I just wish they had some more special features to dive into. Alas, no such thing.
I highly recommend this Blu ray. Even though the extras don’t really fill out the release, the picture is still absolutely worth it. What you’re coming for is the movie either way, and the movie definitely delivers. The running time is long, but it doesn’t feel long when you’re sitting there watching it. And the picture is really stellar, again – I can’t stress that enough. While I wanted more extras, I’m absolutely okay with the release simply on the basis that it looks incredible, sounds great, and the film is spot on.
What I’m rambling on about? Pay more attention to the rating I gave Prisoners as a film and less about the Blu ray release – and go get yourself a copy of this brilliant, thrilling masterpiece! It’s a real modern work of dark and thrilling art.