The Movie Waffler New Release Review - Prisoners | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - Prisoners

The father of an abducted young girl resorts to desperate measures to find her.

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

During a neighborhood get-together, the six-year-old daughters of Keller Dover (Jackman) and Franklin Birch (Howard) disappear. They had last been seen playing beside an RV, the driver of which is a mentally challenged man, Alex Jones (Dano). Detective Loki (Gyllenhaal) interrogates Alex but finds nothing to link him to the crime and releases him, angering Dover, who abducts Jones and takes the law into his own hands.
While watching Denis Villeneuve's English language debut, I found myself extremely conflicted. It's often said you can't make a good movie from a bad script but it's a sentiment I take umbrage with. While it's no classic, 'Prisoners' has enough quality to just about make you overlook how awful its script is. Just about.
The "Black List" is the name given to a list of scripts Hollywood sits on; scripts they see potential in but aren't quite sure what to do with. Aaron Guzikowski's 'Prisoners' script spent several years on the list, which makes it all the more baffling how it reached the screen in such a rough form. The plotholes in this film are large enough to drive an RV through, and glaringly obvious. If local police in the U.S were as incompetent as they're portrayed here, no American child would be safe.
The film keeps your attention in spite of this, however, and I was shocked to learn I had been in the cinema for almost two and a half hours, as it never dragged. The cracks in Guzikowski's clumsy screenplay are papered over by Villeneuve's classy direction and Roger Deakins' cinematography. The two combine to create an atmosphere so bleak it's remarkable this film came from the American mainstream.
Johann Johannsson provides one of the best soundtracks of the year, a simple church organ-based score that reflects the religious guilt felt by Jackman's character.
It's the cast that really saves the film, however. Gyllenhaal gives his best performance since 'Zodiac', to which this will inevitably be compared, though it's not remotely in the same league as Fincher's triumph. Jackman, an actor I usually find quite wooden, is a revelation here, playing a character who is a real monster, though understandably so. The supporting cast is filled with some real talent, in particular Leo as the Aunt of Dano's man-child. 
However, and we go back to the script here, the film won't pick up any awards from the NAACP or feminist groups. Though both Jackman and Howard have their daughters taken, the film shoves Howard into the background, making his daughter's plight little more than a plot device, with the search for Jackman's child providing the thrust of the narrative. To add some sexual inequality to this uncomfortable racial dynamic, in Bello, as Jackman's wife, you have a female character who spends the entire film crying in her bed. (Of the couples I've known, it's usually the wife who keeps her head together in a crisis situation.)
If you're someone who isn't bothered by plotholes, then I truly envy you, as 'Prisoners' will probably be one of your films of the year. For anyone with a strong BS detector, however, Villeneuve's film provides conflicted and frustrated viewing.

Eric Hillis