Joshua's Review of Prisoners
What would you do for the sake of another?
What would you do, Christian?
This is the question, which is not only asked - but also tested - in Denis Villeneuve's Prisoners, a drama about the human condition when placed in circumstances we never seriously consider until it's thrown upon us.
Hugh Jackman leads as Keller Dover, who dwells happily as a hunter, husband, and father. He and wife Gracie (Maria Bello) live with their two children, and nearby friends Franklin and Nancy Birch (Terrance Howard and Viola Davis), who also have a family. The family's two six year old girls are kidnapped on a cold thanksgiving - and from there, along with Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal), the two families face not only questions of what they would do without their daughters, but what lengths would they go just to see their faces again?
Prisoners is unabashedly blunt in it's realizations of a fear every parent faces - I myself wanting to be a father one day struggled with the film when it presented me with tough questions concerning faith, morality, and the frailty of one's spirit when faced with anger, fear, and obsession.
What struck me the most in Prisoners was it's performances - Jackman gives his best performance I've ever seen, and Gyllenhaal's character arch is one that feels genuine and tragic. Some other strong performances come from Paul Dano, Melissa Leo, and the Birch family parents. The performances here never take any steps into the melodramatic - every scene has a character with which you latch yourself onto, believing their actions and reactions given the circumstances.
What this isn't is a cop movie - yes, an investigation takes place, but if you're hoping for a focus on the forensics and detective work, I'm sorry. Vileneuve makes the right decision in keeping the story focused straight on its characters.
While the performances are outstanding, the best I've seen this year, simultaneously the film has a powerful way of asking you the same questions multiple times. Many times I found myself finding a solution within myself to a plot point, only to be asked "Are you sure?" multiple times by the narrative's turns, and focus on the tragic desire for justice done through sinful means.
The cinematography is simple, along with the score, and both serve their purpose - their natural feel accentuates the reality in which the film is wanting to set you in - not once does it fall into the "unrealistic" category, and not once does a character make a decision that feels outside of their character for the sake of a twist.
Powerful, disturbing, haunting, and honest, Prisoners is the best drama I've seen this year. It's desire to make you work out some of the tougher questions of morality is a great reminder to never take what you hold dear for granted - and to never claim a quick decision when given any "what if?" scenario. It's a great film for discussion, and one that should not be missed.
If you're uncomfortable with even the idea of what I've described, or you have no interest in it because of some moral ground you've set yourself on, this film is for you - it is crafted for the individual who believes they have all of life's questions figured out. It will make you think, it will make you worry, and it will make examine yourself deeper than any other film I've seen this year. For the Christian who's been in a comfortable standing their whole life with questions of morality and violence - Prisoners begs you to test that - in a way which only refines and sharpens what you believe in. While I would be lying if I said this film is easy to watch, because it isn't, don't be afraid to explore its themes of justice, fatherly love, and redemption.