What would you do if your child was abducted and every bone in your body knew that they were alive and waiting for you to do something to help them? Would you follow the rules, wait for the police to do their job, respect due process? These are the questions at the heart of Denis Villeneuve's new film Prisoners.
It's Thanksgiving Day perhaps the most popular holiday in America. The holiday is not religious one therefore all of the citizens participate fully. The Dover's are headed over the block to the Birch's for Thanksgiving day football and food. The families are a good match. The Dover's teenage son Ralph is about the same age as Eliza Birch while The families two young daughters Holly and Joy are inseparable friends. The four go out for a walk before dinner whereby they encounter a mysterious RV. Later that afternoon the two young daughters go out to the Dover house without their older siblings and do not return.
Villeneuve is at the peak of his craft with his work on this film. The introductory shots of Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) seen from the back in a sparse diner on Thanksgiving day set up his character as a lonely soul possessing the single-mindedness succeed with detective work. Another fantastic scene at a wooded area when the police first catch up with the subject R.V. captures the tension as the rain falls as the officers approach the vehicle trying to determine if the girls are inside.
Relative newcomer Aaron Guzikowski's script gives several characters the room to grow throughout the piece. Keller Dover ( Hugh Jackman) a tradesman and hunter who prides himself on being prepared for any event locks into a path from the moment his daughter Anna is abducted which picks up speed and altitude as the narrative progresses. Nancy Birch (Viola Davis) a mother and host of the Dinner shows her strength as she learns and reacts to some morally questionable activities. Her husband Franklin (Terrence Howard) an even keeled teacher takes the level headed approach as events unfold.
Veteran Cinematographer Roger Deakins who's recent credits include Skyfall and True Grit choices of lighting and colours serve the film well. The complete lack of light in the afore mentioned encounter with the R.V. bordered by the pitch dark forest raises the suspense level to a high level early on in the film. His work along with Art director Paul Kelly and Set Decorator Frank Galline on the run down apartment complex that is a key location in the piece complement each other well to build the isolation and hopelessness of a place where once at no one will know where you are.
A key element in building suspense in any drama is the musical score. Johann Johannsson low eerie tones mixed with full symphonic pieces support the sequence of events and build anxiety equally in day and night time scenes which is a rare feat.
The film is full of strong performances. Hugh Jackman is superb as the Keller Patriarch as is Terrance Howard in a very contrasting role as Franklin Birch. Violet Davis is exquisite as Nancy Birch as she provides the main female perspective of the morally questionable actions. Jake Gyllenhaal is effective as the local cop on the case moving steadily towards cracking the case collecting and following the evidence. Melissa Leo and Paul Dano also put in strong performances in supporting roles.
Prisoners is an excellent story that asks the individuals watching several important moral and ethical questions. It is a well written, acted, directed and shot production that I can highly recommend.
*** 1/2 out of 4.
Prisoners | Denis Villeneuve | 2013 | U.S.A. | 153 Minutes.
Tags: Child Abduction, Abuse, Police Investigation, Interrogation, Confinement, Thanksgiving, Mental Illness, Survivalist, Pennsylvania.