Personal confession time: I am not a fan of scary movies. While some enjoy the jump scares of modern horror, I can’t mentally take it. Creepy atmosphere? Love it. Knuckle biting tension? Bring it on. But if a bloody creature jumps out from behind a gravestone screaming “boogety, boogety”, I tune out. I’ll tell my friends it’s more about the cheapness of the device and how it masks the difficulty inherent in creating genuine tension but that’s all fluff. Truth be told, I’m a bit of a sissy Mary.
So when a movie is hyped as an emotional thriller and I don’t spend half my time hiding my eyes, guess what? Nobody will. Such is the issue with the latest film from director Denis Villeneuve (Incendies), Prisoner. While the overall experience is solid enough and it has some great performances, those looking for an old fashioned knuckle biter may be left a touch cold.
Prisoner stars non-Wolverine Hugh Jackman as Keller Dover, family man, carpenter and firm believer in the power of preparing for every eventually. After a Thanksgiving dinner at a neighbor’s house, both of the families’ six year old daughters go outside never to come back. The disappearance spurs a town wide search and a suspect, Alex Jones (Paul Dano). Alex’s RV was on the street, Keller’s son saw the girls playing on it and the guy’s a bit of a weirdo. That’s enough for Keller to think him guilty but when the police release Alex due to a lack of evidence, Keller takes matters into his own hands.
The central theme of Prisoners is the corrupting power of love and how it can make ordinary people do extraordinary things. There’s also subtext of fact versus intuition, loners versus family and good old fashioned rage. Everything is presented nicely and the underlying motivations never get in the way of the story. This works for the film and against it, especially as the script starts to lose sense in the third act. By then, we get the point and everything is pretty clear but since the movie needs to end, it does so in a contrived, Scooby Doo manner. There are also some hefty plot holes, a silly final thirty reveal and detective work that screams, “How did I figure that out? I read the script!”
The cop in question is Detective Loki (no relation to Thor), played by Jake Gyllenhaal. The Donnie Darko alum’s stoic, steady delivery works great as an antithesis to Jackman’s powerful emotion but I’m always left wanting more whenever he’s on screen. Jackman, on the other hand, is fantastic as the stressed out father and provides the energy needed to keep the story moving. Simply put, he’s the main reason to see this movie. Paul Dano is also strong as the strange Alex because, let’s face it, the guy knows how to play a creeper. The direction provides some spine tingling moments, there’s a few cringe worthy scenes and the overall presentation is solid.
Solid, but not incredible. Usually, reviews come to me quickly but this one took some time to frame and figure out. Not because of the interesting themes or anything. It had more to do with the straight line of good but not great the movie represents. It’s hard to write about “meh”, and while there are some excellent aspects to Prisoners, the overall experience is one of a turkey and cheese sandwich. Despite high quality deli meat, delicious cheese and tender bread, it’s still just a plain old sandwich. The quintessential Wednesday night rental, Prisoners is a perfectly common piece of cinema that does everything right but never exceeds the emotional equivalent of a shoulder shrug.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Jersey born, New York based and Austin bound, Bill Tucker is a writer of short fiction, film reviews and articles across a variety of media. He currently writes bi-monthly reviews for Pantheon Magazine and his micro fiction story, K, was recently accepted for publication in Solarcide’s flash fiction compilation, Flash Me. When not writing, he works as an IT Trainer for a fashion software company. Check out more of his work atwww.thesurrealityproject.com.