4 stars
Following up 2010's dramatic scorcher Incendies, Canadian filmmaker Denis Villeneuve heads south for his English language debut. Not too far south though, his woodsy America is a cold, dark place as befits the mood of his dour drama, itself something of a metaphor for a nation in the grip of crisis (moral, financial, social). It begins innocently enough when two families get together for Thanksgiving but somewhere between dinner and desert, their young daughters go missing. Det. Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) heads up a manhunt which yields results that fail to impress Kel Dover (Hugh Jackman). The outraged father turns vigilante and kidnaps their prime suspect, a mentally impaired neighbour (Paul Dano) and sets about torturing the hapless man.

Although the over-arching premise has all the makings of an airport potboiler, Prisoners is a superior film in all regards. Central to its success is Hugh Jackman's formidable presence. He embodies the extraordinary anger of a man who finds himself forced into a corner through grief and outrage. When his moral compass swings south, he invites a world of pain on himself and his family, yet such is Villeneuve's confident grasp of material that Dover never becomes a caricature of 'the enraged man'.

Throughout we understand his motives, his reasons, and his actions no matter how extreme those behaviours become. Countering this is Gyllenhaal's Loki, a stoic individual who is played without the histrionics usually supplied to the cinematic police force. As with Dano, Maria Bello, Terence Howard and, notably, Melissa Leo in support, Loki is a fully fleshed character with all the uncertainty and unknowable back story that brings. Terrific production rounds out the package, in particular the moody lensing of Roger Deakins (Skyfall) and Jóhann Jóhannsson's glowering score.

Prisoners is a clever piece of filmmaking that questions your own response instead, and challenges your own moral compass in the frame of a procedural whodunnit. It recalls Eastwood's Mystic River for graphic, violent intensity yet remains a work undeniably its own. Events could have unfolded in a shorter frame, however the extended (150 minute) runtime enables Villeneuve to confront you with Dover's sickening anguish. He pulls no punches in forcing you to experience every last drop of worrisome emotion from this terrifying, and unnervingly exciting ordeal. Prisoners is unflinching, captivating and will keep you guessing to the end, and thinking long afterwards.


Previewed at Event Cinemas, George Street, Sydney, on 11 October 2013



Jake Gyllenhaal
Hugh Jackman
Paul Dano
Maria Bello

Denis Villeneuve

Aaron Guzikowski



153 minutes

October 17, 2013
Prisoners (2013) on IMDb
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