The single question that echoes throughout the entire two and a half hours of Prisoners. Friday, Sept. 20, the movie-going audience of America welcomed a perturbing, vigilante-driven story into their hearts, and absorbed an unsettledness that lingered in the following nights’ dreams.
During a quiet Thanksgiving dinner at the home of their friends and neighbors, the Bryces’ (Terrance Howard and Viola Davis), Keller (Hugh Jackman) and his wife Grace Dover (Maria Bello), realize their six-year-old daughter has disappeared — along with the youngest daughter of the Bryces’. Both families search the neighborhood frantically, bringing them nowhere.Their only clue is a rundown RV seen earlier parked down the street, which has now vanished.
Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal), a loner cop, is assigned to the case. Luckily, he is only minutes away from the spotted RV and arrives to find it parked near the woods at a deserted gas station. The driver, Alex (Paul Dano), who is brought in for questioning after frantically crashing the RV, continually dons Jeffery Dahmer glasses and a painful facial expression. It is soon discovered that his IQ can be no more of that than a ten year old. After finding no evidence in the RV, Loki is forced to release Alex in to the custody of his aunt (Melissa Leo), much to the dismay of Keller Dover.
Using a street-smart authority Gyllenhaal has never shown, Detective Loki feels as though picking apart every detail of every lead is the only way to find the girls. (It is referenced he has solved every case he has ever been assigned.) However, Keller, a grief-stricken parent, is not as patient. Keller is convinced Alex is putting on a disabled show for the police and knows where his daughter is. He decides to take matters into his own hands, with alarming results.
Filmed by Roger Deakins, Prisoners, is beautiful. Whether it is an unsettling close-up of a fawn, or a several frame sequence of a character speeding through traffic with blinding lights, the movie gives a video-camera effect with cinematic quality. Prisoners is filled with subtle (yet often underdeveloped) religious subtext, and frustrating red-herrings. The idea that a parent would do anything to protect their child is radically pushed to the limit. Jackman delivers a gut-wrenching yet heart-breaking performance as the six-day turned semi-alcoholic who changes from a devout Christian father to an apathetic monster.
It was only in the last thirty minutes of the movie when loose strings were tied together, yet the sense of hopelessness prevailed. The ambiguous ending left the audience silent and still, with feelings of guilt, unease, and emptiness. That said, the intended message was clear:
We are capable of being held prisoner by our own demons.