'Prisoners' Review: Slow-Burn Thriller Muddies Heroes, Villains

'Prisoners' Review: Slow-Burn Thriller Muddies Heroes, Villains

If there is one word that can be used to describe the new kidnapping drama Prisoners, that word is methodical. This slow-paced, sizzling thriller never jumps from scene to scene, leaving the viewer’s head spinning with outrageous plot twists.

Instead, this Denis Villeneuve mystery moves at a slow but powerful pace as it unravels a grounded, realistic and thought-provoking tale about vengeance and prosecution.

The story begins with a gunshot. Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) and his son are hunting in the woods and the son, at his father’s discretion, shoots and kills an innocent deer nearby. The deer, an early victim in a story focused on them, lies dead in the back of their pick-up as the father-son duo drive home.

Such a bonding ritual is soon forgotten though on Thanksgiving, when Dover’s young daughter Anna (Erin Gerasimovich) goes missing alongside a local girl named Eliza Birch (Zoe Barde). Dover is enjoying the holiday with his wife Grace (Maria Bello), his son, and Eliza’s parents, Franklin and Nancy Birch (Terrence Howard and Viola Davis) when the abduction occurs. Neither couple knows how to handle the mess. All they know is that a mysterious RV driven by the soft-spoken Alex Jones (Paul Dano) was parked nearby before the kidnapping. A detective named Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) is soon called to the scene to investigate.

What happens next is the real treat.

Instead of treating this as a typical Hollywood mystery, writer Aaron Guzikowski toughens the plot by making Keller an anti-hero who, as he investigates his daughter’s disappearance, is willing to do anything to reconnect with his kin. As the same time that we watch him take matters into his own hands, we also see Loki–an intense, by-the-book detective–unravel the clues and follow up on various leads. For much of the story, Keller and Loki are on parallel paths and when their worlds collide, they do so with a cinematic sizzle that will leave audiences wanting more. 

The film clocks in at over two and half hours and earns every minute of it with a slow but powerful approach. There are only a few scenes of action but that only adds to the tension that builds up as the girls remain missing for days on end. At first, audiences will easily recognize who the heroes are and where the villains lie but as the story continues, the cold grey middle rears its ugly head.

Some of the “heroes” do terrible things here and the “villains” sometimes face horrendous punishments. But that’s the power of this drama. It seldom settles or takes sides between two forces of evil. It just moves along with a rarely-seen tension that will stick with viewers long after the story ends.

With stories like this, the ending often shows what the filmmakers had up their sleeve and this one has an intense ending. But the best thing about this story is that the ending does not define the entire narrative. It’s a great finale but the entire ride was a thrilling one. This movie doesn’t depend on its last act. Nearly every minute of it is well-done and provocative.  

Its final moments may satisfy you–or perhaps not–but the entire movie is great. It’s surely one of the best movies of the year.


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