Posted September 21, 2013 by Daniel Hodgson in
Prisoners has the pacing and suspense of Silence of the Lambs, but isn’t as interested in psychological complexity.
Child abduction. Every parent’s worst fear. Prisoners shows just how far one father is willing to go to get his daughter back, and explores its moral implications.
The daughters of the Dover and Birch families go missing on Thanksgiving Day. An RV was seen parked outside the Birch’s house that afternoon. Police find the RV and arrest its driver after he attempted to flee. A sign of guilt?
Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) thinks so. When the police let the suspect go for a lack of evidence, Keller corners him in the police station parking lot. “They weren’t crying until I left them,” he whispers to Keller.
Hearing this, Keller takes the law into his own hands. Keller soon abducts the suspect at gunpoint, taking him into an abandoned apartment building. Keller brings along Franklin Birch (Terrance Howard) to help him get answers. Franklin is reluctant, but wants his daughter back, too.
Their prisoner, Alex Jones (Paul Dano), is a young man with the mind of a child. Nevertheless, “He stopped being a person when he took my daughter,” Keller says of him.
However, Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) believes that Alex is innocent, and investigates other suspects. Loki soon discovers a connection between several of the town’s inhabitants.
Sensitive viewers should steer clear of Prisoners. Torture is shown and implied, as are its consequences; Alex is shown in close-up, his entire face swollen and bloody from daily beatings at the hands of Keller, who devises a couple of brutal forms of torture I shall not describe.
Given the film’s stance on torture, Prisoners is careful not to invite identification with Keller, who’s written and portrayed to be intensively dislikable, even beyond his treatment of Alex. He’s the sort that must always get the last word in, barks orders at Loki, and points fingers at people, figuratively and literally. He is, in many ways, the film’s main villain.
Unfortunately, it results in a performance by Jackman that often feels one-note. It’s not for a lack of depth to the character, but a lack of breadth. Keller is consumed by a deep rage at his daughter’s abduction, but there isn’t much else to him than that. Similarly, Detective Loki isn’t nearly as good a role for Gyllenhaal as his part in End of Watch was, which played to both his considerable dramatic and comedic potentials. Prisoners has the pacing and suspense of The Silence of the Lambs, which it resembles, but isn’t nearly as interested in psychological complexity, being too busy cramming in one plot point and one red herring too many.