“Prisoners” is a dark, compelling crime thriller with superb acting that’s also a clever detective story.
I have some problems with it, but we’ll get to that later.
Hugh Jackman stars as Keller Dover, a carpenter and doomsday prepper who is celebrating Thanksgiving with wife Grace (Maria Bello), son Ralph (Dylan Minnette) and daughter Anna (Erin Gerasimovich) at the home of the Birch family — Franklin (Terrence Howard), Nancy (Viola Davis), Eliza (Zoe Borde) and Joy (Kyla Drew Simmons).
Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) is brought in to handle the case. Ralph mentions a suspicious-looking RV was in the neighborhood earlier and that becomes the focus of the investigation. The vehicle is found and its owner, Alex Jones (Paul Dano), is brought in for questioning.
Alex lives with his mother Holly (Melissa Leo) and has the mental capacity of a 10-year-old. Loki is convinced Alex had nothing to do with the crime while Keller is equally convinced he’s involved.
When Alex is released from custody Keller takes matters into his own hands, kidnapping the young man and holding him prisoner in an abandoned house. Keller drags Franklin into the mess he’s created and when Alex doesn’t cooperate the torture begins.
Directed by Denis Villeneuve, “Prisoners” works on many levels but I’m not sure it’s the Oscar-bait that some are making it out to be. Jackman and Gyllenhaal might snag some (well-deserved) acting honors but the story comes up short in the final act.
The film’s biggest drawback is that it relies too much on people doing really stupid things, especially Keller. And kidnapping/torturing a mentally-challenged young man isn’t even the stupidest thing he does. Well, from a legal and moral standpoint it probably is, but his response when he figures out who has taken his daughter is pretty damn dumb.
Still, a lot of filmmakers have trouble nailing the ending and overall the movie is truly engrossing. Normally I complain when a movie runs 2.5 hours — heck, a lot of 90-minute movies feel like they go on forever — but “Prisoners” held my attention the entire time. In fact, the movie ends so abruptly I wish they had tacked on another 10 minutes to resolve things.