Movie Title: Prisoners
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Date Released: September 20th, 2013
Date Seen: September 22nd, 2013
Seen with: Anna
Part 1 – Spoiler Free Quickie Review
Prisoners begins with two young girls disappearing from their neighborhood on Thanksgiving. The story then follows the parents reactions to their girls disappearance, the cop assigned to the case, and a couple of suspects.
The movie is a very interesting character study on how the family members react to their daughters/sisters disappearing. First we have the Dover family, consisting of Keller (Hugh Jackman), Grace (Maria Bello), son Ralph (Dylan Minnette), and missing Anna (Erin Gerasimovich). You’ve seen the trailer, so you know how Keller reacts to the situation – he takes the anger route, taking his anger out on the person that he thinks did it. We also have the Birch family, consisting of Franklin (Terrence Howard), Nancy (Viola Davis), older daughter Eliza (Zoe Soul, and missing Joy (Kyla Drew Simmons). The Birch family overall seems to be reacting in a more calm manner, but also the movie doesn’t focus on them as much as the Birch family. Keller is the parent that they focus the most on because of his extreme actions he goes to try and find the daughters. Hugh Jackman is scary good in this role. You can see him as a man who is ready to do anything it will take to find his daughter. He definitely crosses the line and so you’re left with trying to decide whether or not what he did was right/justifiable/something you would do. Even if you can’t relate to Keller, in the actions that he takes to find the girls, there is someone in the families that you can identify with. While the missing children are the obvious “prisoners”, as well as the kidnapped Alex later, everyone in the family has become a prisoner in their own right. Eliza Birch literally says at one point she feels like she is trapped in her house, by the parents, the media, etc. One of the mothers turns to drowning her pain in sleep and pain medications, becoming a “prisoner” in her own little room. It goes back to the interesting character study that this movie gives us.
The movie gives all of the characters a nice amount of development, even if it’s not directly related to the plot. As in, the characters all feel like real people. Detective Loki, played by Jake Gyllenhaal, was my favorite character. I would have loved to know more about him. He is a great detective, but he clearly has some issues of his own, with his strange ticks, his complete obsession with the cases, his sometimes a bit too rough manner. He has these tattoos that you occasionally see that make you think about why he has them even more. Keller is another character that had a number of layers we saw. He is presented as someone who is prepared for everything, in that he has supplies ready if the world should ever “end” (or something), his kids know how to survive on their own, learning to hunt and carrying protection. But, this is the one thing he couldn’t prevent and is now just completely devastated by it. Then we get into Paul Dano’s character, Alex Jones. Wow. Just wow. Paul Dano’s performance blew me away. Like the parents and detective, you’re never really sure if he did do it, if he is really just a little slow in the head, or if he’s some mastermind.
If you’re going to go see this, you have to be ready for the torture. There are two types. There’s the torture that the parents are going through – because throughout the movie, we are just as in the dark about what happened to the girls as they are. We don’t know if they were taken, ran away, if they’re safe, if they’re dead, etc. You WANT to know and are also stressing out about what could be happening to these two little innocent girls. Then, there is the actual torture of Alex. You’ve seen in the trailer that Keller kidnaps Alex – and you know what he intends to do. The movie is pretty good, you never directly see any of what is happening other than a couple of punches. You do see the aftermath though, and trust me, it is hard to watch. You need to be prepared for it going into this movie. You WILL be uncomfortable during these scenes. That’s the point though, and it’s done well. It really makes you look at yourself. First you think would you, yourself, do this if your child was missing? Well then, how far would you go? How much is too much? What if this man didn’t actually have anything to do with your childs disappearance? Franklin at one point says these very things out loud, so you have a chance to reflect upon them.
The movie overall is well done. Towards the end, it got a little bit messy. A couple of things that were important plot points were glossed over VERY fast. If you see the movie, you’ll know what I’m talking about. They resolve two whole plot/side plots in a quick one-sentence kind of thing, that if you’re not paying attention, you will miss. The ending also seemed a little rushed and the movie would have been fine cutting a couple of other scenes down in length to make the ending better. I am a person who pays a lot of attention and I missed a couple of things. It didn’t feel like a magic-hand-wave at the end of the movie to just make the ending happen it just felt so disjointed and thrown together that it was odd. Beyond that though, the movie was extremely well written. It’s important to remember that this movie is not a movie about two girls getting kidnapped. OK, well, it is, but that’s the surface level. There’s so many more interesting things to find and discover in this movie that you will want to see it again.
Part 2 – In Depth Spoiler Ridden Review/Synopsis
The things that I thought were kind of rushed/glossed over, mostly revolved around the who and why.
At the end of the movie, first Joy is found. How did she escape? It doesn’t really say, but we know it must have been when Holly (Mellisa Leo) moved the girls from the hole to inside the house. It’s easy to believe that Holly wasn’t able to control both girls at once, but you’d think you’d pull one girl out, get her secured, and then move on to the other girl. But whatever, that’s just me and how I’D move my kidnapped victims. Anyway…. then there’s also the fact that Joy says that Keller should know where the girls were, because he was there. Yes, the girls had tapes on their mouths so they couldn’t yell, and they were drugged, but the girl was cognitive enough to hear Keller’s voice, you think then she would have been cognitive enough to make some noise. Even through tape you can scream.
But, those are minor things. I’m more annoyed with the glossing over of Bob Taylor (David Dastmalchian). His character was the one who shot himself after having confessed to the crimes. It’s obvious he wasn’t actually doing anything, and was mentally handicapped himself. They just kind of explain him away in one line, saying that he must have been a boy who escaped some kidnappers and became obsessed with a book they mention ONE time in the movie, that apparently details a number of missing children’s cases. If he was actually taken by the Jones family, which is what I think the movie was trying to say, then he must have been one of the children who escaped, but his brain was already messed up from that drugged up grape soda. It really bothered me though that this was just explained away so fast.
Similarly, Holly’s reasoning for doing what she did is explained disgustingly fast. She just kind of mentions it as her own “war against God.” In that, she’s taking other people’s kids as a punishment for God taking her own? I guess? I wish the movie would have either NOT given us a reason at all or given us a bit more reason. The “why” doesn’t always matter – because it’s still a disgusting thing she was doing. Poor Alex is the perfect proof of how messed up they are. He was just a boy that they kidnapped – and unknowingly went to visit the very spot where he was abducted because it seemed like a nice spot. The poor boy has been so screwed up he doesn’t remember anything. I do honestly believe he just wanted to give the little girls a ride, like Holly said he did. I don’t think Alex was “taunting” Keller, by telling him “they only cried when I left”. I think Alex was just saying a fact that he knew. The only contradictory evidence to Alex’s mental state is the scene with the dog. He looks around, and then picks up the dog on the leash letting it squirm a little bit. I think it didn’t fit the Alex that I was watching. Everything he said and that Holly said has me sticking to the fact that Alex is in fact just a poor abused man with the mental abilities of a 10 year old. Except for the dog thing. And I think that it’s just a bout of poor writing, that they threw in the movie to make you agree with what Keller is about to do.
Definitely go see this in the movie theater, and be prepared for an interesting character study on the different “prisoners” of their situations, some intense edge of your seat emotions, but a slightly messing ending.