Monday, September 23, 2013

Prisoners: How far will you go for your family?

Prisoners - Poster | A Constantly Racing Mind
Would you die for your children or your family?
I admit I don't care for movies that exploit the audiences emotions by centering on one of the worst thing a parent can go through.  I refused to watch "Ransom” (1996) when my daughter was only 3 years-old.  My loss, I guess.  "Prisoners" is a disturbing film that keeps you on the edge of your seat, but ultimately is frustrating.  Two families similarly constructed living a nightmare after their young girls go missing in broad daylight on Thanksgiving Day.
Would you kill for your family?
Hugh Jackman (“Wolverine,” “Swordfish”) and Maria Bello (“Payback,” “A History of Violence”) are the Dovers, Keller, and Grace.  Terrance Howard (“Crash,” “Iron Man”), and Viola Davis (“Doubt,” “Solaris”) are Franklin and Nancy Birch.  Both have older teen children, but the focus is on Anna Dover (Erin Gerasimovich), and Joy Birch (Kyla Drew Simmons).  The Dovers arrive at the Birch household for Thanksgiving dinner.  All is fun and games until Anna and Joy disappear after turkey dinner.  While the adults entertain each other at the Birch's, the kids trek a block away back to the Dover's house to look for Anna's missing pink whistle.  After an initial search by the families, the Dover’s teenage son, Ralph (Dylan Minnette), mentions to Keller, that earlier in the day, the girls were playing on an old beat-up RV.
What would you do if your child was missing?
An All Points Bulletin goes out, and Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal – “End of Watch,” “Rendition”) turns out to be very close to the RV.  Inside is the confused and child-like Alex Jones played convincingly by Paul Dano (“There Will Be Blood,”).  After no sign of Anna and Joy, no evidence of their abduction in the RV, and after the legal limit the police can hold a suspect, Alex is set free.

Prisoners - Family in Crisis | A Constantly Racing Mind

This film, on one hand is a detective thriller, while on the other hand it becomes a psychological thriller.  Loki is the detective that always solves his cases using a balance of logic, hard work, and a bit of brute force.  After a few days Jackman's character, Keller, decides that, he knows better how to find his children rather than Det. Loki.
Alex lives with his aunt Holly (Melissa Leo -  “Oblivion,” “The Fighter”), a quiet and seemingly god-fearing woman.  Keller is a carpenter, and as a carpenter, he tends to use a hammer or brute force on everything.  He kidnaps Alex and takes him to his old house, and tortures him.  He gets very little out of him, as Alex seems to be of diminished capacity.  Keller brings Franklin and then Nancy in on his decent into madness.  Loki, chases leads and clues and in some cases seemingly red herrings.  Time is slipping away.

Prisoners - Hugh Jackman as Keller Dover | A Constantly Racing Mind

What bothered me about the character of Keller Dover is for all the talk of being prepared for all misfortunes, he is unable to take accountability for his own actions.  During the torture sessions with Alex, he constantly tells him that it is Alex's fault that he must beat him.  Keller tells Loki that it is Loki's fault that his child hadn't been found, and that his wife, Maggie stays in bed all day, depressed.  Instead of realizing that there are just some situations too big for one man, cooperate with the police, and help keep the moral of his family up, and be there when they need him.  He goes off on his own misguided sense of justice.  Time is ticking away.
The Birch family is not much better.  They refuse to help in the beatings, but they won't stop Keller in his nightly sessions.  Meanwhile, Loki continues to put pieces together.  The film is about who thin the family unit can be, and how important family is.  Keller’s father committed suicide.  Alex's uncle just disappeared one day, and Loki, was brought up by the state.  With Keller obsessed with beating the location of his daughter out of Alex, his wife slips deeper into depression.

Prisoners - Holly and Alex Jones | A Constantly Racing Mind

The characters that Jackman and Gyllenhaal play are strong and sharply defined.  Both Keller and Loki show that they have brains and brawn, but in opposite amounts.  Bello spends a good deal of time in bed, as she denies that something bad has happened to her family.  In many ways, she pushes her husband to do something to protect his family and find his daughter.  Terrance Howard's character, although weaker, asks the questions that we all wonder about throughout the film-- what if you are wrong.  Viola Davis takes the middle road, not willing to stand up for the law, because she just wants her child back.  Who could blame her?
Melissa Leo's Holly is seen sporadically throughout the film.  However she is convincing in her belief on "waging a war against God" after their child died of cancer.  "Prisoners" is also about faith or a lack thereof.  Keller whispers the Lord's Prayer several times, but takes vengeance upon him.  Loki has faith in himself and his abilities.  When he is about to give up, he takes one more look at random clues and starts tying them together.

Prisoners - Paule Dano as Alex and Jake Gyllenhaal as Loki | A Constantly Racing Mind

We have faith that Canadian director; Denis Villeneuve ("Incendies," "Polytechnique") will bring us, the audience, to a satisfying end.  Jóhann Jóhannsson's score is driving and unnerving at the same time.  Aaron Guzikowski's ("Contraband") script plays fair with the audience.  He brings up clues throughout the story and allows the audience to process them for themselves. Villeneuve does a great job bringing us a truly atmospheric thriller, and although he only hints at a certain conclusion, the most part of the film is on the money.

Movie Data

Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller
Year:  2013
Staring: Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis, Maria Bello, Terrence Howard, Melissa Leo, Paul Dano, Zoe Soul
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Producer(s): Kira Davis, Broderick Johnson, Adam Kolbrenner, Andrew A. Kosove, Mark Wahlberg (exec)
Writer: Aaron Guzikowski
Rating: R
Running Time: 153 minutes
Release Date:  9/20/2013

1 comment :

  1. ~ The prestige look & feel of this movie produces an illusion of truth, but it fails too many critical verisimilitude tests to be taken seriously.

    Start with the final scene where they're digging up the property. Before using a backhoe on frozen ground, every object and structure on the property would have been turned upside down and thoroughly searched, so they would already have found what they were looking for.

    Besides, wouldn't the trapped character hear everyone arriving with heavy equipment? If he can blow a whistle he could probably scream his lungs out.

    The opening sequence asks us to believe that responsible parents would allow two young girls to walk a distance through their own neighborhood alone on Thanksgiving day. In this day and age? I don't think so.

    A handful of similar logical "cheats" :: a dead body in a basement that doesn't stink. The detective's phone rings just as he is about to discover the critical clue. Weaknesses.

    Sure, as willing audiences historically brainwashed to accept ludicrous lapses in logic and still enjoy the movies Hollywood churns out, this picture has a powerful mood and it carries us along sufficiently.

    But it cannot be taken seriously because it's too contrived, and the violent torture seems excessive for this story, which could have been a brilliant and believable thriller.