Even for cinemaphiles, a two-and-a-half-hour film can be a
wager. I have sworn to myself to give every movie I attend the benefit of the
doubt and stay until the end no matter how bad it might turn out to be. But to
hold out through 150 minutes of turkey-grade schlock … that’s the stuff of
I was, therefore, wary heading into Prisoners
last weekend. This movie seemed to have sprung up on me out of nowhere: The first time I heard of it was last week. Bad thrillers can be a challenge to one’s
sanity, and so—clocking in at 153 minutes—Prisoners
appeared to be a high-stakes gamble.
Prisoners, the latest movie from
acclaimed Canadian director Denis Villeneuve, follows the desperate search for
two little girls who disappear just yards from their homes. While young detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) attempts to find leads, the father of one of the missing girls, Kellen Dover (Hugh Jackman), launches his own investigation. Villeneuve brings this seemingly well-trodden scenario to heart-pounding life.
The film’s small-town setting is crucial to thickening the plot. Prisoners is set in an impoverished community in the back woods of
Canada in late November. As I watched characters walk along forested roads
in coats and hats, I found myself fondly reminded of Winter’s Bone (2010). Though most of the characters appeared to live in
suburban lots, it was clear from the dilapidation that abounds that this place was pretty well-forgotten. And just like Winter’s
Bone, Prisoners effectively draws suspense from the nature encroaching on the community. Villeneuve conjures just
as much unease from a dark pit in the ground as from an unwelcome intruder.
Yet Prisoners manages to quickly disconnect
itself from the neorealism of Winter’s
Bone. As Loki and Dover’s investigations progress, revelations come to
light that threaten to push the subdued plot of Prisoners toward the complex conspiracy plot twists of David Fincher or Christopher Nolan. Loki and Dover follow their
own paths in their investigations, each meeting with dead ends and challenges
to overcome. Though they uncover horrors and scars of crimes long past, they
can’t truly understand the nature of the maze that they are in. They can only
hope to find a way to get out of it.
stays grounded thanks to Jackman and Gyllenhaal. Despite the growing
mystery, every action that the two characters make feels authentic. Their
struggles, both outer and inner, feel all the more dramatic and real. There
were several moments while watching the film—one in particular involving snakes—that had me cringing in unease without losing the authenticity of the characters. That is
I encourage you to go see Prisoners. This suspenseful independent thriller is well worth its 153-minute runtime.