Denis Villeneuve‘s Prisoners is a well-made drama that leans a bit too far on the procedural side. The film is full of twists and turns, but predictable ones that still play out in strong fashion, but rarely shock the viewer. Prisoners is a tough film to review, because nothing about the production is bad; the film just borrows heavily from established material and doesn’t do much to separate itself apart from the long list of whodunit detective films.
Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) is a working-class father with a wife (Maria Bello) and two children. His neighbors (Terrence Howard & Viola Davis) also have two children. Both families decide to spend Thanksgiving together and what was supposed to be a night of celebration and joy quickly turns into a night of mystery and suspense.
The two youngest children of both families decide to go alone over to the empty house to retrieve a few items and hours later the rest of the family discovers that they never made it back. They have no motives to go off of, besides a mysterious RV that was parked somewhere on the street.
Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) leads up the case, following basic clues and suspects as he slowly unwraps a twisty mystery that leads him into some very dark places.
Denis Villeneuve‘s Prisoners has all of the makings to be a classic whodunit drama. It’s well-shot, with crisp cinematography complimenting the gripping music. It’s also jam-packed full of Oscar-quality stars. But everything about Villeneuve’s debut picture screams too familiar.
Prisoners is too procedural to provide any unseen punches. It touches base with a lot of hard-pushing topics of morality and what’s right or wrong and it even does so with strong performances by almost every single cast member, yet nothing feels like something that we haven’t seen circulating network television for decades.
The story suffers from following a set path that rarely takes a twist or turn without you knowing and the film’s lengthy running time makes for a thick and atmospheric film that’s also slightly boring and uneventful.
That’s still kind of harsh, because Prisoners is a good movie that makes great use of its cast.
Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal provide unique contrast as the film’s two leading stars. Jackman’s Keller Dover is a driven father simply looking for his daughter at any costs. He perfectly displays his determination and will to do anything necessary. Jackman’s performance is sometimes scary to watch, because of how true it rings for so many fathers out there. When you’re pushed to the edge there’s really no going back.
Gyllenhaal plays Detective Loki with a little more restraint, but an equal amount of drive. As an officer of the law, Loki has a perfect case-solving record, but as a human being he just wants justice and results and he too is willing to bend the law if it means finding some answers a little quicker.
There’s an interesting back-and-forth going on between Jackman and Gyllenhaal, because both men understand what must be done, yet they both approach the scenario very differently. It’s interesting watching the morality between both men get foggy and unclear, yet director Denis Villeneuve never paints too much judgment on either side of the law.
But even with two heavy-hitting performances, Prisoners fails to reach new grounds.
The writing is steady, but again, there’s just nothing new to explore. Prisoners is a film that gives us good direction, good acting, decent writing and bone-chilling music. Everything coasts on being good, if not slightly better at times, while the general story remains the film’s biggest weakness, because it makes director Denis Villeneuve put all of his talents into something that we’ve already seen again and again.
Villeneuve shows promise as a director. Perhaps better material will help him become someone that we truly need to keep an eye on, but for now Prisoners just shows us that he knows how to shoot a film with big stars attached. He knows how to show us the jumps and scares and keep us in suspense, but he doesn’t know how to completely shock or awe us.
Prisoners is a film best left for rental. Denis Villeneuve has crafted a twisty little drama that boasts strong performances and solid direction, but nothing about the film’s story strays too far away from something that you’ve seen on any number of network television drama shows. Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal bring their heavy guns, delivering two dramatic performances that I’d call dense and layered, but far from Oscar caliber acting.
Everything about Prisoners is good, while nothing about it is great.
Prisoners – 7.5/10