Hugh Jackman leads the cast in Prisoners, a crime drama depicting the hunt for two missing girls. A familiar plot, an unnecessarily long running time and mediocre performances render this film as just another second-rate, boring thriller.
Prisoners begins by establishing a happy Thanksgiving setting in which Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) and his family are visiting the Birch family for dinner. This happiness lasts for approximately five minutes as the young daughters Anna and Joy quickly go missing after playing around with a suspiciously parked RV. The driver of the RV is found to be Alex Jones (Paul Dano), a young man with a very low IQ who rarely speaks. After questioning, the police are convinced that Alex would not have the mental capabilities to commit and cover up a crime, but Keller has other ideas and follows Alex in order to find some evidence. In an astonishing act of evidence collecting, Keller stumbles upon Alex singing Jingle Bells Batman Smells, the very same ‘hilarious’ version that his daughter Anna was singing the other day. I am not sure why Keller is unaware that this version is almost as famous as the original version of the Christmas rhyme, but he takes this as conclusive evidence of Alex’s guilt. What follows is the fairly familiar scenario of father-seeks-revenge; reinforcing the belief that now all crime thrillers are just the plot of Taken with a few variables changed.
The story is not always focused on Hugh Jackman’s character as Prisoners also follows Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal), the detective working on the case of the missing girls. Introduced as a detective who has solved every case he has ever been assigned to, Loki actually appears to be the most half-hearted detective ever shown on film. The character is written to be completely unobservant, he solves nothing throughout the entire film and he meets every order from his boss and every acquisition of new information by sighing and muttering ‘shit’. That really is the extent of his character. I do not think this is the fault of Gyllenhaal as he plays the role of a flawed, lonely, miserable man quite well; his character however is simply underdeveloped and this weakens the film. Hugh Jackman’s character was not written much better. With no character progression – and the film has ample time to allow for this – the character of Keller changes instantly from a caring, loving father into a more violent version of Wolverine minus the claws. The character’s grief was not really shown, and this made Keller fairly unlikable. There were not enough scenes of the rest of the Dover family and thus they were represented by this violent, raging man for whom I could not like or care about. Since Keller is unlikable and Loki is just uninterested, the film just becomes tedious.
Although the plot of Prisoners is somewhat familiar, that does not mean it is all bad. In the second half of the film there are many twists and turns; some you will see coming, the rest may surprise you but they simply won’t make much sense. There are plenty of plot devices to throw you and Detective Loki off scent, and for the most part they do work. But they don’t make sense. A whole subplot surrounding snakes and mazes is never really given a context in the film; they have no real relevance and are brushed aside. The film ends without a full conclusion which was quite satisfying, and hopefully there will not be sequel to ruin this. The story and the plot of the film are in some respects constructed quite well, yet the 2½ hour running time was far too lengthy for this film and thus the plot often tries to be ‘clever’ but ends up getting lost. The cinematography was commendable, capturing the bleakness and emptiness of the characters in the setting. However, such greyness teamed with a long running time runs the risk of making audiences feel as bored and uninterested as Jake Gyllenhaal’s character.
THINGS LEARNT FROM THE FILM:
- You can say something creepy whilst surrounded by policemen and microphone holding reporters, but only Hugh Jackman will hear you.
- You can erect wooden walls around a bathtub and detectives who suspect you of kidnap won’t notice.
SUMMARY: A crime drama that could have been great if it had a shorter running time. Poor characters and weak performances also take away from the interesting plot. It is a film worth seeing, it’s just not a great one.