WHO ARE THE Prisoners?

Denis Villeneuve
screenplay by Aaron Guzikowski

The film features more than one kind of prisoner.  There are the two girls abducted by predators.  (This discussion will contain many SPOILERS).  The father of one of the girls (Jackman as Keller) captures a prisoner of his own, and he himself is a prisoner of his bottle.  His wife appears a prisoner of her own prescription phials.  Keller also seeks to imprison his own son within his an ideological cage, some of the bars of which stem from  simplistic, immature religious beliefs.

Prisoners is long but tense.  Its slow pace builds dread.  We are in Hitchcock’s world  based not on horror  —  though there is some to watch  —  but on what we fear; not what we see but we are afraid to see.

Hugh Jackman is believable and always in key as a good man who begins the film by bringing violence to a beautiful deer in a beautiful landscape in a beautiful opening shot.  He goes downhill fast.  But the Jackman star persona keeps us liking him and pulling for him despite the wrongs he commits which make it hard, eventually, to tinguish him from the predator he wants to destroy.   In a less showy role, Jake Gyllenhaal as Loki underplays an already underwritten part, but in his J.G. way he creates an enigmatic but consistent and authentic character.  Maria Bello is, for me, less effective than usual, though her perfunctory thanks and  farewell to the hero detective are excellent, forming part of a series of loosely tied ends and thought-provoking fade-outs.  The director and writer trust us as a grownup audience that does not need everything spelled out.  On the way, they skillfully avoid sentimentalization.  Viola Davis and Terrence Howard as the other two parents are very effective, especially in not making showcases of their parts.  Melissa Leo is superb.

Back to suspense and dread:  The real horror here is watching what happens to Jackman’s character and, to a lesser extent, his wife and the other two parents.  He becomes a prisoner not just of alcohol but of his own emotions, of the hate which he allows to fester in himself.  His reaction to this crime, his reaction to having his daughter taken from him  —  taken as far as he knows, for sexual violation, possibly for murder  —  his reaction is a glimpse into ourselves, into all of us, into our society today, gathered to our screens of various sizes while talking heads trumpet alarm, manufacture fear and, incidentally, encourage hate.


Until then,
See you AT the movies,

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