‘Prisoners’ a Captive of its Own Ambition

by Eric Melin on September 20, 2013

in Reviews,Video Reviews

prisoners-poster-2013Here’s my TV review with clips of Prisoners on KCTV5′s It’s Your Morning, along with my print review, which originally appears on the Lawrence.com Scene-Stealers blog, in slightly different form.

Have you ever had the feeling when you’re watching a movie that the initial premise is so good — so well-written and executed — that there’s no way that it could maintain that throughout the whole picture? For me, this usually happens in mysteries.

The new crime thriller Prisoners, starring Hugh Jackman as a desperate father and Jake Gyllenhaal as the single-minded detective trying to find Jackman and his neighbors’ missing daughters, creates world-hardened characters and winds them up into an impossibly tense situation.

But the intertwining threads of this dark mystery eventually become too heavy, and the story crumbles under the weight, casting aside its characters for a far-fetched, drawn-out third act that lessens the impact of the entire film.

Kidnapping and torture are grim subjects for a family drama, and Canadian director Denis Villeneuve (2010 Oscar-nominated import Incendies) and cinematographer Roger Deakins (10-time Oscar nominee) supply tons of moody atmosphere to support the focused work of its actors. In addition to uncharacteristically downbeat turns from Jackman and Gyllenhaal, there are fine supporting turns from Terrence Howard, Viola Davis and Maria Bello.

prisoners-2013-movie-reviewThe moral issue at the center of the film, which involves the justification of extreme cruelty when children’s lives are on the line, is fascinating, which makes it all the more frustrating when Aaron Guzikowski’s screenplay all but abandons it in the last of the film’s very long two and a half hours.

The typical twists and turns of the modern Hollywood thriller rear their ugly heads toward the end of the movie, and the audience is way ahead of the detective on the “a-ha” moment, which makes for a frustrating watch, especially considering how completely he is in the facts of the case.

Prisoners has too much on its mind — or maybe too little. It swims in the murky waters of moral complexity, but is content to skim the surface without engaging fully with the questions it raises. Rather, it is content to deliver a disappointingly convoluted mystery plot in an attempt to give the audience what it thinks it wants.

Eric is the Editor-in-Chief of Scene-Stealers and regular critic for KCTV5. He’s a member of the BFCA, VP of the KCFCC, and drummer for The Dead Girls and Ultimate Fakebook. He is also the current 2013 Air Guitar World Champion Mean Melin. Eric goes to 11. Follow him at:

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Xavier September 20, 2013 at 4:44 pm

I don’t know if you saw Incendies, but it sounds like this has a lot of the same problems. There’s an interesting idea at the core but the director is interested in using it to take you on a convoluted plot-heavy story instead of exploring ideas or offering any insight. In incendies he placed one horrific event on top of another until they lost meaning and just felt like a way to try and shock you. Scenarios that may have been impactful were completely negated by a lack of believability of the overall picture. Denis Villeneuve seems obsessed with bleakness and drudgery for its own sake. I was unimpressed with incendies and am not looking forward to prisoners.

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2 Eric Melin September 27, 2013 at 5:17 pm

I didn’t. Interesting, It’s still floundering in my Netflix queue. He certainly has a gift for creating atmosphere, I’ll give him that, but I fear you’ll have similar problems with this one, Xavier…

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