Prisoners (2013)

(On Cable TV, August 2014) I approached Prisoners reluctantly.  Sure, it got great reviews… but it also came along with the reputation of being a dark and unpleasant thriller.  I kept putting it off, constantly reasoning that I wanted to see something lighter in my short free time.  Well, now that I have finally sat down to watch Prisoners, can I acknowledge that I was wrong in delaying watching it?  This has to be one of the finest films of 2013.  Sure, it’s dark.  Really dark, as stories about child abductions and psychopath criminals usually are.  But it’s temporary darkness at worst: The film wraps up to a fine conclusion that strikes a perfect balance between hard-earned light and unforgiving consequences.  There are a few unfortunate coincidences within the plot, but much of Prisoners has the satisfying heft of a good crime novel. (Remarkably enough, it’s an original screenplay.)  Moral dilemmas abound, and the sense of barely-repressed darkness is constant.  As a no-fun crime drama, it allows actors to shine: Hugh Jackman turns in one of his best performances as a grief-stricken family man taking justice in his own hands when the police won’t hold a suspected abductor while his daughter is missing.  Meanwhile, Jake Gyllenhaal also has a career-best role as a driven investigator trying to make sense of a convoluted web of back-stories and shadowy criminals.  Paul Dano is also remarkable as a punching-bag character.  Still, French-Canadian director Denis Villeneuve gets the credit for a film that manages a satisfying conclusion out of a bleaker-than-bleak film.  (Significantly enough, the film either takes place at night, or during overcast/snowy days.)  The film may not be fun, but it is strangely uplifting and shows what happens when viewers are trusted to handle more than the usual Hollywood pap.

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