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Prisoners : A Hidden Truth , A Desperate Search

prisoners

Taut is not a word usually associated with movies that exceed the two-hour mark, but at 153 minutes ‘Prisoners’ manages to avoid being one of the sprawling bloated concoctions Hollywood has come to churn out of late. Denis Villeneuve, the film’s Canadian director, has made his English language debut with a tense engaging thriller that achieves that rare feat of being both difficult and highly enjoyable.

Two young girls in Pennsylvania, Joy Birch and Anna Dover, go missing at Thanksgiving. Local introvert, Alex Jones (Paul Dano), a man described as having “the mind of a ten year old,” is suspected, but with insufficient evidence the police are forced to release him. The father of one of the girls, Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) decides to take matters into his own hands and pursue Jones himself, with the reluctant assistance of the second girl’s father, Franklin Birch (Terrence Howard).

From there, as an audience, we are presented with a series of difficult circumstances that bring us to the lines of moral ambiguity, and then to stepping right on past them. Just how far would we go in similar circumstances? The juxtaposition of doing the right thing, and doing the wrong thing if that’s what’s necessary sits high in the questions the film poses, as we delve on further into a narrative centered on every parent’s nightmare.

The film opens with a spoken prayer, the Our Father, and the killing of an innocent, a deer, as Dover is teaching his son Ralph to hunt in the woods. We see a family man and a religious man.

“Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us, and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”

The words will ring true for the rest of the movie, as we revisit some of the themes that are found within and see how unfortunate events can force a man into some difficult decisions.

The supporting cast is terrific. Amongst which are such notables as Terrence Howard, Maria Bello, Melissa Leo, Paul Dano, and Viola Davis – now a star in her own right since ‘The Help’. Jake Gyllenhaal is superbly understated as lead Detective Loki, a man who clearly has his own demons. But it’s Jackman’s film, and in the lead he gives a career best performance. It would be a surprise, even an injustice, if Jackman’s name wasn’t being sung in high praise come awards season. The cinematography is at times beautiful, and the editing, without being showy or grandiose is well paced. What we have is an enthralling movie that manages to keep the plot tight. And though the third act doesn’t quite match the first or second, the film as a whole still manages to feel real and intimate.

As for Villeneuve, the future looks bright. He has since reteamed with Gyllenhaal for ‘Enemy’, an adaption of Jose Saramago’s 2002 novel, ‘The Double’, and given his current form, one suspects he has many more cinematic contributions to come.
‘Prisoners’ is one of the best cinema releases of the year.

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