Prisoners (Warner Bros. Pictures, R)

 

prisoners smJackman does a remarkable job of portraying this grieving father dealing with tragedy in the only way that makes sense to him.

 

 

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Think back to English 101. Remember the five elements of fiction? Character, plot, theme, setting, and point of view. Now apply that list to Denis Villeneuve’s Prisoners, and it’s hard to think that any aspect of the film could be changed; rather, it is ideally knitted together just as it is. Let’s break this down.

Plot: By now, you’ve probably read at least one article about Prisoners. Even pre-release, critics are raving, oohing and aahing about every aspect of the film. In case you missed it, though, here’s a quick recap: It’s Thanksgiving in Pennsylvania. Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman), his wife, Grace (Maria Bello), and their two children, Ralph and Anna, are spending the holiday with friends Franklin and Nancy Birch (Terrence Howard, Alfre Woodard) and their two daughters, Eliza and Joy. The two young girls want to walk down the street to the Dover house to find Anna’s missing pink whistle—and they never come back. And thus begins the crux of the suspense-filled film, which takes a cold, harsh, judgment-free look (point of view) at vigilante justice (theme).

Setting: A small Pennsylvania town, where it is often raining, sleeting, or snowing—in other words, where the skies are mostly gray. The two families, close friends, live just down the block from each other.

Character: Despite the importance of the other four elements, herein lies the crux of the movie. Keller is a hard-working handyman determined to find his daughter at any cost. He is explosively angry, strong-willed enough to draw Franklin into his web of self-made justice. Over the course of the film, we see Keller slide further into a dark world of his own making, justifying his violent actions in the name of restoring his family. Jackman does a remarkable job of portraying this grieving father dealing with tragedy in the only way that makes sense to him. We watch as he turns his inner anguish outward, becoming only a shadow of what he used to be: a loving family man with a strong sense of right and wrong.

On top of these desperate, grieving families, we have Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal), a detached police officer who says as little as possible. We learn the detective has never lost a case, hence his enduring effort in finding the missing girls. It is through his eyes, too, that we first register our mistrust in the town’s residents, especially the near-mute, suspicious young Alex Jones (a fabulously creepy and pitiful Paul Dano), whose RV had been parked on the Dovers’ street just before the girls went missing—enough of a coincidence to accuse (or convict?) him of the crime.

Prisoners will keep you guessing until the end—perhaps even after the end, if you’re the type who likes a bow stuck neatly on top. Its 153-minute run time doesn’t exactly fly by, but you won’t notice its length, either. Rather, you will leave with a mind full of what you have just seen, felt, thought, and interpreted. Don’t feel bad if you identify with an imperfect character; you’d be hard pressed to find a pure one among the bunch. | Laura Hamlett

About Laura Hamlett 467 Articles
Laura Hamlett is the Managing Editor of PLAYBACK:stl. In a past life, she was also a music publicist and band manager. Besides music, books, and other forms of popular culture, she's a fan of the psychology behind true crime and violent criminals. Ask her about mass murder...if you dare.

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