This is a great abduction film: serious, gritty, engrossing and as realistic as possible. It benefits from its tight direction, the exceptional performances of the experienced actors and the strong dramatic twists of the story. The end is marked by slightly expected and clichéd elements but they certainly can’t diminish the rest of the film’s achievements. Prisoners explores the fiery insanity that affects the family and friends of the victims. The slowly built but undeniably gripping tension will get you. The film is slow, merciless and leaves no space for hope for the viewer in its darkest, grimmest moments.
The best performance in Prisoners is that of Hugh Jackman. It is one of his most serious, laugh-deprived performances to date. He superbly depicts the savagery which conquers every parent of a missing child. When Hugh Jackman is angry he can really shake you up. His acting is so powerful because he manages to clearly transmit his humane side as a father apart from his wrathfulness as a man seeking vengeance. He is determined, angry and destructible but if you look closely enough you will see Hugh Jackman’s eyes glistening with boundless grief. Through every look, Jackman reveals to us the pain that pushes the character of the father to great lengths in order to save his child. Jake Gyllenhaal’s acting is also above reproach. His cop is calmer, more professional but stull at times of utter hopelessness, Gyllenhaal also gives us an admirable taste of his interpretation of madness fuelled by desperation.
The story pushes the characters and us to the limit. Dennis Villeneuve doesn’t count on hasty editing, except in one short sequence of shot which works very efficiently. The director is using mostly prolonged clear shots which work well because they keep us guessing. At the moments of tension, nothing is shown clearly and everything is hidden. Villeneuve lets us observe the mysterious object of interest on screen but never allows us to fully understand what we see. Through its visual imagery Prisoners constantly keeps us in the dark, away from hints and truths, just like the horrible situation keeps the protagonist in horror. For example, in a shot early on in the film, we see a close up of a tree but at the same time we know that something wrong is happening with the little girls. Our vision is blocked by the tree and we can’t help or see the girls. In the same way their parents are unable to do anything at that particular moment because they are unaware of what exactly is happening.
The abductor doesn’t call asking for money and doesn’t send creepy bottles filled with blood from the victims. We are shown the absolute reality of the situation and it is the slow, undeniable, heart-wrenching wait for news and results, which usually turn out to be bad. The feeling of hopelessness and evil is impressive. We see it not only in the faces of the devastated parents but also in their actions. The atrocities that Keller Dover (Jackman) commits are a mirror for his internal feelings. On the other side we have Detective Loki (Gyllenhaal), who is there to prove that there is a legitimate way of resolving the situation. The outcomes of the father’s vigilante methods and the police officer’s legitimate ways are exceptionally striking. The end is more or less marked by clichés we have seen in many thrillers but these minor flaws never turn off the suspense and the fear. The wise message that the film brings to the mind of the viewer is that one way or another the truth about the victims’ fate will be revealed. It is entirely a question of luck whether or not the truth will bring happiness or grief. At the end what matters is the loss of life. Prisoners makes one thing very clear: terrible things can happen just like that and there is no way for you to be ready for it.