Incendies was one of the best films of 2010, it was hard-hitting, brutally emotional and contained a twist that was like something from – I wouldn’t want to ruin it for you. Denis Villeneuve’s first English language film is set in a small town in Pennsylvania in which two young girls are kidnapped. The police investigation, led by Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal), leads to the arrest of a mentally handicapped Alex Jones (Paul Dano), but when there is not enough evidence to charge him of the crime, he is released. This enrages Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman), one of the fathers of the missing girls, who then proceeds to kidnap Alex and torture him in an attempt to extract information about the whereabouts of the two missing girls.
Unlike the majority of Hollywood films Prisoners does ask some demanding questions of its audience, hardly surprising coming from the director of Incendies. The main question is how far would you go to rescue or find a loved one? Prisoners examines the number of ways one could take the disappearance of a child. An underused Maria Bello is emotionally devastated, and unable to leave the house, the Birch family are distraught and determined to find their missing daughter but are unwilling go the lengths that Keller Dover is willing to go. Keller Dover’s actions become the central point of the film as Prisoners becomes a murky minefield of morals that questions the effectiveness and morality of torture. Much like the torture scenes in Dark Zero Thirty (which, in my opinion, condemned the use of the torture) they are brutal and very hard to watch. The mere idea of self justice and use of torture to extract information is questioned. The viewer is plagued by a number of questions whilst Keller is brutally beating Alex. What if Alex is innocent? Does Alex fully understand what is happening? Is Keller any better than the man he is beating?
Prisoners is certainly a film that demands more of the viewer than the average by the numbers thriller that Hollywood regularly churns out. The moral and emotional complexities that arise within the families of a kidnapped child are well discussed. The turmoil caused by the kidnapping of the two children is equally as interesting as the police procedural into the disappearance of the two young girls. Keller Dover’s transformation from seemingly loving family man, to violent torturer is a truly fascinating one and it gives Hugh Jackman an emotional role that allows him to dive deep into his character thus presenting Jackman the opportunity to give one of the best performances of his career. Supporting performances are also impressive Jake Gyllenhaal is superb as detective Loki, torn apart by his own inner demons, and Paul Dano successfully elicits a degree of sympathy for Alex.
Prisoner’s dark, twisted plot is matched by Roger Deakins’ superb cinematography. Shot in a similar fashion to the works of David Fincher, such as Zodiac and Se7en, the relentless rain and dark surroundings add to the films’ sinister nature. Like every other genre the police procedural genre has its own troupes and clichés of which Prisoners adheres too with its numerous red herrings, last minute revelations and a dramatic, unexpected and questionable twist. However, the build up to the final act is superb. Teaming up with the dark, shadowy, noiresque cinematography the story builds up the tension and sense of dread expertly.