Starring: Hugh Jackman (The Wolverine), Jake Gyllenhaal (End of Watch), Terence Howard (Iron Man), Melissa Leo (The Fighter), Paul Dano (There Will Be Blood)
Director: Denis Villeneuve (Incendies)
Writer: Aaron Guzikowski (Contraband)
Runtime: 2 hours 33 minutes
Release Date: 20 September (US), 27 September (UK)
Leading up to its release, Prisoners was not on my radar. I had seen the trailer and didn’t really think much of it; it just seemed like another crime thriller to me. But then the buzz came in from all the critics. What was the big deal? I had to see for myself. So are the critics right, or was my initial judgement true?
The story of Prisoners is very simple when you get right down to it, and honestly it isn’t that original either. But when you are in the moment, you don’t even notice. The film keeps you guessing, distracting you from the obvious and keeping you on the edge of your seat. Whilst someone who has seen a lot of these kinds of movies will probably piece everything together before the reveal (even I did to some extent), it is still incredibly thrilling. For those who’ve seen the trailer and think it showed too much, don’t worry: that trailer was just the tip of an iceberg full of intrigue and suspense. What mainly keeps Prisoners going though is the characters and their reactions and interactions. The emotions fly high in this movie; everyone reacts to the drama differently and has different ways of coping with it. The film feels natural and treats the subject matter with an eye for realism; even in its opening moments before s*** begins to hit the fan, the way these characters talk and interact, you’d swear you’re watching a documentary. The film is long, but never feels as long as it actually is. The pacing is perfect; it never rushes anything but lingers just long enough to create suspense without falling into tedium. I can’t say much more without spoiling everything, you just have to see it yourself. Go in as blind as you can: you’ll enjoy it much more that way.
But none of this would mean anything if the film didn’t have a good cast, but thankfully they have an excellent one. Jackman is at his best here, playing a very complex individual that, despite some of the horrible things he does, you wholly sympathize with; that’s a very fine line to try and balance but he pulls it off flawlessly. He certainly deserves another shot at an Academy Award for this. Gyllenhaal is equally impressive, playing a cop struggling to cope with the drama around him but never giving up hope. Terence Howard gives his best performance in a long time, but his role does fade as the movie begins to focus more on Jackman and Gyllenhaal. Maria Bello and Viola Davis are also great, but like Howard they get relegated to the sidelines. But this didn’t bother me. This is Jackman and Gyllenhaal’s show, and when either of them is on screen (doubly so when together) you just can’t get any more invested than you will be. Paul Dano’s performance is great as well, saying very little but telling us a lot through his confused, despairing face. Melissa Leo is almost unrecognizable in the film, and she again proves why she got that Oscar.
Prisoners isn’t a technical marvel, but it does have a simple but effective visual aesthetic. Legendary DOP Roger Deakins gives the movie a very gritty, down to earth feel that compliments the sombre naturalism of the picture. The film doesn’t make any attempt to dazzle you with camera wizardry, but it certainly doesn’t need to. The music is also minimal but effective, coming in just when it needs to.
I know this review has been vague, and that’s because I don’t want to tell you everything. Just know this: Prisoners is my favourite movie of the year so far. A movie hasn’t made me this emotionally attached to its events in a very long time, and it is also one of the few movies that has almost moved me to tears. It’s that good. Whenever you can set aside a few hours for this thing, go and see it. Just be prepared for it: this ain’t a movie you can just casually watch.
FINAL VERDICT: 10/10!