The only thing worse than losing control is being manipulated into losing it.
Sharing a Thanksgiving dinner between families, blue-collar handyman Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) realizes that he and his neighbor’s daughters haven’t been seen for a while following dinner. When a hasty search turns up nothing, their older teen siblings mention a dilapidated RV parked just down the street that the children had started to play on; the RV is also gone. Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal), who has reportedly never failed to recover a missing person, is tasked with finding the little girls. When the RV and driver fail to turn up any clues, Keller tracks the driver down to begin his own investigation, but the truth is not so black and white – and far worse than he could have imagined.
At first glance, the film’s trailer underwhelms the subject matter; is this really the story of a family man who becomes a vigilante, beating his own redemption out of a man who the police have already absolved? Prisoners starts off simply enough but slowly escalates into a worst-case scenario where every shadow is jumped at and foregone conclusions seem justified. The film’s pace is an endurance test; in the same way as the characters, viewers are made to feel like plenty is happening but nothing is being resolved. Although the audience is given a peek into the solution a little earlier than the heroes, everyone gets to share in the dread of the final revelations.
Detective Loki is the kind of character that doesn’t seem difficult for Jake Gyllenhaal, a solitary creature who makes up for a lack of social skills by putting inordinate pressure on himself to piece the clues together. Hugh Jackman’s Keller isn’t like other characters we’ve seen him portray, a man who finds himself able to justify any crime for the sake of his family – especially his missing daughter – while still managing to appear tortured having to do it. The rest of the cast carries the film, but the central focus seems to drift away from Jackman as the story unfolds and toward Gyllenhaal; very unusual but not distracting.
It’s difficult to get into the details without giving plot points away, so the above description revealed in the trailer will have to suffice. Some may complain that the ending isn’t a complete ending, but close watchers will understand that it is as complete as it needs to be. What really boggles the mind is all the things that were done wrong, and yet if they had been done correctly, the clues to the case might not have presented themselves. Does the end justify the means? Watch first before deciding for yourself.
(a three and a half skull recommendation out of four)