By Benjamin Lane
Prisoners. (2013). Run Time: 153 mins. MPAA: R (for disturbing violent content including torture, and language throughout). Starring Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Terrance Howard, Viola Davis, Maria Bello, Paul Dano and Melissa Leo. Written by Aaron Guzikowski. Directed by Denis Villeneuve.
Who could have guessed it would take a movie like Prisoners to get Hugh Jackman to release his true unleashed beast? I thought it was released in The Wolverine. Not even close. Truth is, in Prisoners, he gives the best performance of his career, topping even his Oscar nominated role of Jean Valjean in Tom Hooper’s Les Miserables just last year. Jackman is on a roll, with that, The Wolverine, and now this mesmerizing picture. Jackman stars as Keller Dover, a deeply religious man and father who, while congregating with his next door neighbors (Terrance Howard and Viola Davis), comes face to face with horror as his daughter mysteriously vanishes. Faced with the unavoidable decision to find out what happened to his child, Dover encounters detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal), owner of a mysterious RV in the neighborhood Alex Jones (Paul Dano) and his very own personal demons. This is a two and a half hour experience that zips along at a breakneck pace and is as perplexing as it is astonishing.
Denis Villeneuve heads this project, penned by Aaron Guzikowski, which makes it a film created by two guys I haven’t heard of previously. This is a good thing, though, because it gives me something to await in the future. Villeneuve knows how to direct a movie. Every shot in this film is sheer perfection; angles impeccably convincing, framing immaculately executed and the atmosphere harrowingly chilling. Thanks to my personal favorite cinematographer, Roger Deakins, this is perhaps the best looking movie of 2013 so far, beating out even Oz the Great and Powerful and Oblivion, which just goes to show that a movie that lacks CGI can still come away looking gorgeous and being more visually appealing than movies with CGI. Deakins, the master cinematographer of great films such as The Big Lebowski, Fargo, No Country for Old Men, The Shawshank Redemption, American Beauty, and Skyfall, gives his all for this movie. Usually, I would say rain in a movie concerning this subject matter would be a bit clichéd, but I have to admit Deakins makes it moody. Most movies will only make it rain when something bad or depressing is happening. This movie is always bad. Something depressing is always happening. This is a saddening film. This is a film that you will leave feeling grimy and filthy. And that is, of course, due to the subject matter, but it is brought to the human senses largely by Roger Deakins’ masterful ability of capturing a mood.
Hugh Jackman is sure to pick up an Oscar nomination in his role here, which I hold to be his career best. Interviews with Jackman reveal his commitment as an actor. For this role, he deprived himself of sleep to appear more worn out by the search for his daughter. He studied for hours. Researched. Things normal actors do, I’m sure, but Jackman really stands out here as someone who understands his character. He delved deep, head first into this project, and the results are staggering. If Jackman gets snubbed at the Oscars, I will be greatly disappointed. Supporting Jackman is Maria Bello as Keller’s wife, Gracie. Equally affected by the disappearance of her daughter, she plays the role of the troubled mother well, and she was a great factor for the film, sparking great chemistry with Hugh Jackman. Terrance Howard and Viola Davis are great as the couple down the street who lose their daughter also. Viola Davis is a great as she’s ever been and Terrance Howard gives his best performance since Crash (yes, I’m one of the few that actually likes Crash). These two really pour their heart out and I loved every bit of them on screen. Paul Dano has had a bit of an interesting career so far. I thought he was great in Little Miss Sunshine, a movie I think is wonderful and one of the very best road trip movies ever made. He was fantastic in There Will Be Blood, one of my all time favorite films. Since then he’s been less popular but equally fine in films such as Being Flynn and Looper. But now he hits it dead on in what I think is his best performance since Blood. He rarely speaks a word, but he is chilling as hell. Every twitch. Every awkward movement. He has a way of making you not knowing what to think. Not knowing how to feel. He’s dead on. As his character’s mother is Melissa Leo, who turns in a solid supporting performance also. But the lead actor in this movie and my favorite character in this movie is detective Loki, played by Jake Gyllenhaal. Gyllenhaal, right alongside Jackman, is up for an Oscar in my opinion, as he delivers the best performance of his career. Although his being in the film End of Watch in 2012 certainly helps with his character in Prisoners, Gyllenhaal steps more with his character from Zodiac, which this film reminded me of a lot. Gyllenhaal has a twitch that he masters on screen, and you can tell he really plunged himself into the abyss of his character’s mind and it results in one of the best aspects of the entire movie.
The script, penned by Aaron Guzikowski, is also up for an Oscar nomination in my book, as it is one of the most rapid and suspenseful scripts in years. Guzikowski, along with the talented and completely invested actors, bring this fictional but also very real situation to ferocious life. Every scene is written immaculately, making it hard to determine which scene is in fact the best. It’s the type of movie that fortunately brought together a perfect script for a perfect cast under the perfect director. From scene to scene this movie increases in intensity, sometimes physical, most times verbal. This is a dialogue driven film, much like Zodiac, and the dialogue is ferocious. Rarely ever will you clench your fists in suspense just from watching a couple of characters talking in a small room. There are many scenes like that, and they all lead up to a stunning third act, which is in my opinion a flawless ending. The final shot of this movie is culminating. I had chills through most of the credits just from how effective the final shot of the film really is. It sinks down deep. It’s a terrific, award worthy script.
FINAL THOUGHTS: Thanks to a terrific screenplay by Aaron Guzikowski, immaculate direction by Denis Villeneuve, impeccable performances from the whole cast, opulent cinematography by the great Roger Deakins and what I believe to be a perfect conclusion, I rank Prisoners with Zodiac and The Silence of the Lambs as one of the greatest crime/investigation dramas ever made, and it is one of the years very best films.