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Prisoners - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Directing: A-
Acting: A
Writing: B+
Cinematography: B+
Editing: B+

Watching the trailer for Prisoners, you might have thought, Meh. Another kidnapping movie. It looks fairly unexceptional. It's tempting to say maybe they needed someone else editing the trailer, but then -- for once, the trailer showed only just enough, so that once you actually see the film, it's a genuinely pleasant surprise. I mean, as far as seriously grim movies go. "Grim" is the right word for it, and the first guy to leave the theatre I saw it at apparently agreed: "That was grim," he said, to no one in particular.

This is not just another kidnapping movie. Really, Prisoners is about the mutability of morality, the gray areas a person finds themselves in when they feel pushed against the wall. You have to ask yourself: What would you do? Particularly for such a mainstream cast, this is genuinely provocative filmmaking.

It starts on Thanksgiving Day, with Keller and Grace (Hugh Jackman and Maria Bello) walking over to neighbors Franklin and Nancy (Terrence Howard and Viola Davis) for dinner. Both couples of have one teenage child and one little girl. The little girls go outside, and after a while, everyone realizes they don't know where the girls are.

Prisoners wastes very little time getting us this far. In fact, it admirably gets right to the point from the very beginning, starting with the title card and no other credits. It's just as well, all the names might be distracting when it becomes clear what a stellar ensemble cast this movie features: Paul Dano as Alex, the primary suspect in spite of apparently have the IQ of a ten-year-old; Melissa Leo, practically unrecognizable as Alex's aunt; Jake Gyllenhaal as Loki, the detective assigned to the case.

And yet, this is really Hugh Jackman's movie. I wish there were more focus on Franklin and Nancy; they're left with little more to do than either sniveling or steely resolve. If there is any real flaw to this movie, it's that way too many really great actors are under-utilized. But it all comes back to Keller, and his eventual decision to abduct Alex himself, convinced as he is that even if Alex does not have the girls, he knows where they are. He takes him to an abandoned building and beats and tortures him for days. It's a long, long time before we have any idea how much Alex is to blame, and that's the point. Whether he is or isn't, is there any justification to Keller's actions? Does it matter?

Franklin is horrified by helps Keller anyway. Nancy learns of the situation and much more readily sees its potential utility. In the meantime, Loki is chasing down increasingly obscure clues and false leads, all the while frustrating the parents of these girls because the girls are not found.

The situation gets complicated, and it's to director Denis Villeneuve's credit that it's never convoluted. What's at stake changes with surprising subtlety, and heroes and villains are not clearly defined. In some cases, people are just plain crazy. In others, people are made crazy. Who the dangerous person really is can depend on something as simple as where you're standing in the room.

Some people may find Prisoners to be a little overwrought, but it really worked for me. Even in cases where you wish they had more to work with, the performances are stellar across the board. In lesser hands, this story would be ridiculous. But the people who made this movie really sell it. Grim? Sure -- but beautifully executed.

Hugh Jackman and Terrence Howard push their limits in PRISONERS.

Overall: A-
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