When Becca and I saw the trailer for Prisoners, I knew that it would be a film that I’d be hunting down for her. When it ended, she said, “Why can’t every movie be that perfect?” I asked what she meant. “Nothing dumb happened.”
Kelly Dover (Hugh Jackman, forever Wolverine to me) and his wife Grace (Mario Bello, A History of Violence) are celebrating Thanksgiving with their friends Franklin Birch (Terrence Howard, Hustle & Flow) and his wife Nancy (Viola Davis, about whom I love the fact that she was in both Fences and Suicide Squad). The kids are at play — older kids Ralph (Dylan Minnette, Let Me In) and Eliza (Zoe Soul, The Purge: Anarchy) downstairs watching TV, younger children Anna and Joy outside.
Earlier, the girls had been playing on an RV and the older kids had gotten them away from it. But now, the younger children are nowhere to be found. Soon, a massive police manhunt is underway.
Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal, forever Spider-Man to me) finds the RV outside a gas station and chases its occupant: Alex Jones (Paul Dano, Little Miss Sunshine). The man has the IQ of a child and his RV is clean, but Kelly wants him kept in jail. The police, however, can’t do that.
Loki explores every lead he has, including looking up sex offenders in the area, such as Father Dunn, a priest who killed a man and buried him in his basement. That man informed him that he was at war with God and had already killed 16 children.
Alex is released as TV cameras roll and Kelly attacks him, right after the man says, “They didn’t cry until I left them.” No one but Kelly hears this. He follows the suspect on his own, without the police, and when he hears the man sing the song his daughter sang the day she was taken, he snaps.
Using the building his father willed him that has gone dormant, Alex is beaten and tortured for what he knows. Jackman is excellent in these scenes and was encouraged to push his rage as far as it could go. It shows.
Loki is still on the case but his attention is divided between keeping track of Kelly and searching for a mysterious man who attended the candlelight vigil for the girls. That suspect, Bob Jones, lives in a house covered by mazes, with giant plastic storage bins filled with snakes and articles of children’s’ clothing covered by pig blood. Frustrated that he can’t solve the case — he’s never lost one before — Loki attacks Jones in the interrogation room. In the confusion, Jones grabs a gun and kills himself. The police figure that he never killed the girls or took them — he just wanted to be part of this. Loki thinks there’s something more.
Kelly continues torturing Alex, who also nearly escapes his interrogation in a scene that mirrors the one where Jones grabbed the gun. He finally confesses that the girls are lost in the maze, which is intercut with Loki matching the maze drawings that Bob Jones did with the necklace of the man he found in the basement of Father Dunn.
When Joy is found alive, she says to Kelly, “You were there.” What does this mean? Well, I don’t want to spoil any more of the story. It’s too good.
Jackman, Gyllenhaal, Paul Dano and Melissa Leo (who appears in heavy makeup as Alex Jones’ aunt) are all astounding in this. In particular, Gyllenhaal and Dano make some really interesting choices for their takes on their characters. However, some advice: Dano speaks incredibly low. Watch his scenes with closed captioning on or you will miss some integral parts of the plot.
Denis Villeneuve director is assured, with a slow-building suspense throughout the film, including some long pauses on static shots in the open. He’s since directed Sicario, Arrival and Blade Runner 2049.
Writer Aaron Guzikowski started writing this film back in 2007, where it ended up on The Black List, which contains the most popular unproduced screenplays in Hollywood. Afterward, he wrote the script for the remake of Soviet film Reykjavík-Rotterdam called Contraband (which has nothing to do with Fulci’s movie, despite me getting the wrong DVD several times when I tried to order that film) and he is currently working on a reboot of The Wolf Man.
This is streaming on most of the places where you can purchase films online. I found my used DVD for $6, so it’s affordable and worth adding to your collection.