Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

"Prisoners, surprisingly for a film that lasts 153 minutes, holds you captive for the entire runtime."

Hugh Jackman seems to be getting more intense with every passing role, from the haunted but determined Jean Valjean in Les Miserables to the internalised gruffness and pain of Logan in The Wolverine. He brings a mix of all these attributes to the character of Keller in Denis Villeneuve's Prisoners, which surprisingly for a film that lasts 153 minutes, holds you captive for the entire runtime.

Keller is a man who lives by God and the gun. His basement is stacked with equipment to deal with most end-of-the-world scenarios, his truck radio permanently tuned to religion and though he clearly loves his wife (Mario Belo) and family as much as they love him, his emotional settings are wound just a bit too tight. Jackman pitches his performance perfectly, never once suggesting he would pose a danger to his friends an family but still intimating thinly covered troubles. He tells his son that the most important thing is to "be ready" but he certainly isn't prepared for what happens next.

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A happy Thanksgiving meal with friends Franklin and Nancy (Terrence Howard and Viola Davis) descends into despair after the youngest daughters of both families disappear. A campervan driving weirdo, Alex (Paul Dano, impressive and expressive in a role that is virtually mute) is scooped up for the crime but local detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) can find nothing to hold him for. After Keller becomes convinced Alex holds the key to the kidnapping, he decides waiting for the police to solve the situation is not an option.

Aaron Guzikowski's previous film, Contraband, was a messy and casually violent adaptation but he fares much better with his own story. The script is intelligent and, considering the lengths to which Keller may be prepared to go, remarkably restrained in its depctions of violence. The inner rage and unpredictability of Keller in the face of his impotence at the situation make his scenes with Dano seat-edge tense.

The mental state of the characters remains the focal point and, as Keller becomes increasingly desperate, those around him - and us, too - are forced to question our own judgement, as we start to get lost in his moral maze. Guzikowski also adeptly balances Keller's story with Loki's stoic but methodical approach to the crime. Gyllenhaal - so good in Villeneuve's other new film Enemy - is a match for Jackman, as the cop who rarely lets emotion get the better of him.

Everyone is a prisoner of some sort here, whether it is of their emotions, their current circumstances or of the past - a scene in which Loki talks to a mother whose son disappeared years before, is particularly harrowing. And as the rain and snow lash down - beautifully captured as always by Coen Brothers regular Roger Deakins - the bleakness and futility trickle down your neck. Even if once or twice the direction the film is taking is a little too telegraphed and a couple of plot holes appear, this is more than a cut above the average thriller, with a fierce intelligence that forces us to confront the things we might do if the moral choice seemed like no choice at all.

Reviewed on: 27 Sep 2013
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A man whose daughter disappears, takes matters into his own hands.
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Director: Denis Villeneuve

Writer: Aaron Guzikowski

Starring: Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis, Maria Bello, Terrence Howard, Melissa Leo, Paul Dano

Year: 2013

Runtime: 153 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


SSFF 2013

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