"Prisoners"


Denis Villeneuve is a director that I've adamantly followed since the beginning of his career in Quebec more than 15 years ago. It took a while for this great director to finally hit it big. In 2010 he released an incredible masterpiece called Incendies. It garnered an Oscar nomination, critical acclaim and then the world finally knew about him. Too bad they haven't seen his earlier stuff.Maelstrom was a sexy, film-noir narrated by a fish and starring the lustful Marie-Jose Croze and Polytechnique was an artful black and white re-creation of an infamous college shooting in Quebec.

In Prisoners Villeneuve doesn't soften his style or adhere to any Hollywood conventions. He is still the Denis Villeneuve I've always known. It helps that he has an impressive cast that includes 5 Oscar nominees. This is an ambitious, sprawling, fascinating and -yes- flawed 158 minute movie about a missing kids case. Jake Gyllenhall and Hugh Jackman deserve a nomination, so does Villenueve for his impressive direction. Paul Dano, Terrence Howard, Octavia Spencer and Maria Bello complete the cast. An incredible cast having a go at a screenplay that was on the “black list” for the longest time.  

Jackman plays Keller Dover who ends up facing every parent's worst nightmare. His six-year-old daughter, Anna, is missing, together with her young friend, Joy, and as minutes turn to hours, panic sets in. The only lead is a dilapidated RV that had earlier been parked on their street. Heading the investigation, Detective Loki arrests its driver, Alex Jones, but a lack of evidence forces his release. As the police pursue multiple leads and pressure mounts, knowing his child's life is at stake the frantic Dover decides he has no choice but to take matters into his own hands. He kidnaps Alex.

The film takes so many twists and turns that it threatens to derail, by the film's last act that's what happens. I wish they could have tightened this film up in the editing room and cut 15-20 minutes of it. That's a minor quibble because there are powerful moments here. Many will recall Clint Eastwood's Mystic River and Todd Field's In The Bedroom. They wouldn't be wrong but I'd go a step further and say this is very much akin -and owes greatly- to David Fincher's Zodiac. Both are 150 minute tales about missing kids and the obsessed people trying to solve the case. 

The scenes of torture here are sometimes tough to watch. Is Keller stooping down to the same level as the abductors? How much is too much in exacting revenge? These questions have been asked before in the cinema but deserve to be asked again. Here's a big studio picture with a lot on its head and an ambition you don't see much of these days at the movies. 

It helps that -like Fincher- Director Villeneuve has a great visual flair, he gives us some of the most powerful scenes of the entire year. Jackman, fresh off his “Les Miserables” nomination, could get a second nom for this one. He delivers a passionate, relentless performance, easily the best work he’s ever done.  Gyllenhall is ferociously good and might have found a great director to work with (wait until you check out what Gyllenhall and Villeneuve have done with Enemy, due out in 2014.)

Suffice to say there's a lot to chew on here and the expertise at work is top notch. I wouldn't be surprised if this catches on in the years to come as one of the go to films in the murder-suspense genre. It really is phenomenal work from real pros. 

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