After tonight, I have reflected upon "Prisoners" and I feel with this film, "Gone Baby Gone" and "Mystic River," it is safe to say that I will never allow my children to be out of my sight. If I ever have any.
As my girlfriend and I left the theater tonight, we stopped at her parents' house to get our dog before we went home. My girlfriends mom asked me how the movie was. I got to say, the best way to describe this movie is that it feels like a shot of Jack Daniels. This movie stings on the way down and it wakes you right up. Don't get me wrong by that description, "Prisoners" is an excellent movie. But viewers must be warned that it is a really tough sit. The audience my girlfriend and I saw this with said it all, as there were plenty of moments where the audience made horrific moaning and grunting sounds. This is a movie that gets under your skin, that inflicts scars. You're going to leave the theater feeling like you just survived a horror film. The reason the film works is because it stays true to its convictions. "Prisoners" revolves around two little girls getting kidnapped and their two families struggle to find out who took them. Right away, you should know this is going to be a darker ride. However, especially with the dark movies, context matters. Because everything in this film is treated with confidence and with care. It all works.
Perhaps that says something about me as a film watcher. All my life I have been a lifelong horror fan, thriller fan and suspense fan. I have seen many styles of movies from many different cultures and countries. With that though, I have seen more on-screen depravity then I care to remember. Some of it works for me, while some doesn't, similar to every genre of movie. If you already know that dark stuff turns you off, then I'd steer clear of this one, you'll be glad you did.
Hugh Jackman and Maria Bello play Keller and Grace Dover, the family of one of the girls who goes missing at the beginning of the film. Terrance Howard and Viola Davis play Franklin and Nancy Birch, the other family whose daughter goes missing. These two families are friends and on one Thanksgiving, their lives are changed forever. Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) plays the policemen who gets assigned to find the missing girls, and he works very diligently. Even though Keller believes he already knows who took the girls, Alex Jones (Paul Dano) a strange kid who lives with his aunt (Melissa Leo). Because Keller believes he knows who took them, he goes out of his way to prove it. He does unbelievable things to get his daughter back and when I say unbelievable I mean it.
The work done by the entire cast is terrific, and I don't think its a long shot at all to think we probably will find some of these actors getting Oscar nods this winter. Gyllenhaal especially really lays bare why he's a credible actor, giving one of the best performances of his career. Jackman is equally great as Keller. This is a character we have never seen from Jackman before and he really sells it. I think Paul Dano deserves possibly the most credit however, as his character is the most melancholy and heartbreaking of the entire movie. I won't get into why simply because I don't want to ruin anything. This is a movie you're going to want to see for yourself. It's filled with twists and turns and an ending that will make you shut your eyes and say "REALLY?!?!?!"
What makes "Prisoners" really stand out for me is how well it embraces its themes. It clear that Keller Dover is a very religious character and religion plays a huge part in the movie. The most painful lesson "Prisoners" tries to teach is this: No matter what religion you belong to, if you do not live a moral lifestyle, you will be punished for it. There is a character in this movie that does some terrible, unethical things to another character; completely depriving them of their rights. By the end of the movie, once some shocking revelations are made, the same exact thing happens to the character who inflicted that pain upon the other character. I can't help but see the parallels. No matter what the circumstances, if we do not treat each other with respect, if we do not live a good-willed, moral lives, we will not get a slice of the promised land. "Prisoners" is a very dark example of that lesson, but it is painted beautifully in the movie.
So despite the darkness, I think you owe it to yourselves to check this out. This will no doubt be an experience I remember the rest of the year.
FINAL GRADE: A