Prisoners – Review ★★★★


Hugh Jackman stars as blue-collar building worker Keller Dover, a sick-to-his-stomach and totally terrified father who crazily takes the law into his own hands when his little six-year-old young daughter Anna is suddenly abducted from outside their American suburban home along with her friend.
The evidence all points to a disturbed youth, Alex Jones (Paul Dano), who was parked in the street in his dilapidated RV at the time. Dover’s convinced he’s guilty and knows where his daughter is. But is he, and does he?

Jake Gyllenhaal co-stars as Detective Loki, the dogged, maverick lone cop on the case. He’s normally brilliant and usually has a 100% success rate, but this time he can’t work it all out at all.
The cops manage to arrest the youth. They find the RV, and the youth in it. He seems guilty but there’s a total lack of actual evidence against him. There’s no forensic evidence of the girls in the van or at the house where he lives. Loki starts bumbling around the locality, snooping meaningfully, but finding nothing. Then, after a couple of days or so, his bored boss, Captain O’Malley (Wayne Duvall) is forced by the rules to let the suspect youth go. Loki kicks up a storm with the boss, but it’s done.


That’s when Dover steps in with some pretty extreme action, with the reluctant help or connivance of his friends Franklin and Nancy Birch (Terrence Howard, Viola Davis), the parents of the other little girl, Joy. As the days go by and his little girl isn’t found, Dover is at the end of his tether and is basically going nuts. He knows the longer it is, the less and less likely it is she’ll be found alive. Detective Loki gets one lead, a creepy, suspicious-looking youth Bob Taylor (David Dastmalchian), whom he chases but loses. And another trail leads to a troubled priest, Father Patrick Dunn (Len Cariou). Other characters include Dover’s pill-addicted wife Grace (Maria Bello), who thinks an intruder’s been in the family home, his very nice-seeming teen son Ralph (Dylan Minnette) and the youth’s worried foster mother Holly (Melissa Leo), as well as a couple of cops (Anthony Reynolds, Brad James) and the forensics guy (Robert C Treveiler).

An electrifying, ultra-disturbing epic thriller, this is a stupendous blast of a movie. It’s really, really scary, quite terrifying, and makes you truly queasy throughout and leaves you feeling that way for hours afterwards. Time is totally elastic. A short movie can seem endless. But here a very long movie (146-minute) races electrifyingly by in the careful, loving hands of Canadian director Denis (Incendies) Villeneuve. Aaron (Contraband) Guzikowski’s intense and crafted screenplay finds fresh mileage in old situations. It feels like the first time a story like this has ever been told.
It helps that the film looks stunning too, with brilliant photography by Roger Deakins, almost all of it in rain or snow. This provides loads of unusual atmosphere, menacing and a unique flavour for this movie. If it’s like any other, it’s a Coen Brothers movie, which isn’t so odd as Deakins is their regular director of photography (Fargo, No Country for Old Men). He also filmed Skyfall and The Shawshank Redemption.

Jackman and Gyllenhaal are both amazing, competing to push each other further and further. Gyllenhaal’s done this kind of role before in Zodiac, so we know it’s in him. He’s perfect at it. No trouble to him at all. So that means Jackman’s the revelation here, though. He’s one scary guy in this movie. You wouldn’t even want to meet him, let alone cross him. This is a great turn.
The story, I imagine, is totally fictional, but I’m persuaded that every word and incident we saw actually happened. This film’s that ‘real’.

Derek Winnert is a leading UK film critic and author working for Vue Cinemas, Shortlist, Onemetal, ILoveMediaCity, cubed3, Letterboxd, Universal Film Magazine, UK Film Review, jonesyinc, The Void, Celebritext and the Film Review annual. He’s also worked for TV Times, What’s On TV, TV & Satellite Week, The Times, The Guardian and The Daily Mail. A member of the London Critics Circle, he is the author of The Virgin Encyclopedia of the Movies, The Film & Video Guide and a biography of Barbra Streisand.