Hollywood thrillers that feature vigilantes usually pander to our baser instincts. Prisoners doesn’t let us off the hook so easily.
A grim, gripping, ethically slippery tale of child abduction and revenge, it puts us through a moral wringer alongside its characters, compelling us to ask: in their shoes, what would I do?
Hugh Jackman’s Keller Dover isn’t given to doubt. A blue-collar Pennsylvania dad with survivalist instincts, he’s convinced he has to take the law into his own hands after his six-year-old daughter and her friend go missing one Thanksgiving afternoon and the police release the chief suspect, Paul Dano’s lank-haired, creepy-looking misfit, for lack of evidence.
The desperate steps he subsequently takes are horrifying. That they are also emotionally plausible renders them even more scary. As the film’s plot twists and turns, French-Canadian director Denis Villeneuve (making his English-language debut) cruelly tugs the viewer’s sympathies this way and that, though he and screenwriter Aaron Guzikowski do tie up the various narrative strands a little too neatly at the end.
But Jackman is terrific as the angry, anguished protagonist; so is Jake Gyllenhaal as the dogged, equally tormented detective investigating the girls’ disappearance. Enhancing their efforts, cinematographer Roger Deakins gives the film an oppressively dank and grey look that perfectly matches the story’s moral murkiness and makes it even more unsettling to watch.
Certificate 15. Runtime 153 mins. Director Denis Villeneuve.
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