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 Prisoners - Film Review

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Enlightened Viewer

PostSubject: Prisoners - Film Review   Sat Oct 19, 2013 2:23 pm

It is Thanksgiving.  Two families get together and celebrate; their young daughters go outside and disappear.  Suspicion falls upon the driver of a van that was seen in the neighbourhood, but when brought in for questioning, no link can be established; the forensic search of the van yields no evidence the girls were ever inside it.  So, the suspect is released back into society causing a suspicious father, who is driven by a promise to protect his family, to become enraged.

On the surface this is a simple premise for the drama that unfolds, but the film script from Aaron Gulzikoski slowly unravels a nihilist and vengeful tale of retribution and depravity.  At times, this is a dark and uncompromising film which asks an uncomfortable question of its audience – how far would you go if your child was abducted and you were certain information was being withheld?  However, for every action there is a consequence, so arguably the film is supportive of Law and Order rather than subverting the concept.   Instead we’re presented with a convoluted tale that I felt asked its audience to understand the motivations and actions of the girl’s parents, rather than supporting or condemning them.  Yet, despite this there is a moral tone to Prisoners that definitely resides with civilized, rather than savage, behaviour.

The acting in this film is of a high standard.  Performances are generally believable and the complexity of the central characters is explored within the film’s premise.  Hugh Jackson’s performance as a man who’s drive to rescue his daughter leads him to take extreme measures, felt slightly overplayed to me, but the disintegration of his moral perspective was well realised.  Jake Gyllenhaal plays the detective who is trying to find the missing girls, whilst attempting to juggle the demands of a father against police regulations.  This is a strong well nuanced performance in my opinion.  

Due to the structure of the narrative and the manner in which Prisoners was shot, the audience are able to be one step ahead of the detective, which creates terrific tension as you watch the film.  The viewer becomes aware that clues have not been seen, important snippets of conversation disregarded.   This manner of information is there from the beginning of the film, so everything you see and hear can be filtered and understood as the story progresses.  Consequently this isn’t a fast paced movie; rather it’s one which steadily builds up to a climax.  

Praise is due to the film’s director, Denis Villeneuve for clear and constructive cinematography.  This is an organised movie that reveals the layers of the story without dumbing down the material, or the audience.  However, as substantial and solid the sum of its parts are, as much as I’m pleased to have seen it, Prisoners makes for a gruelling ride into parts of our psyche most of us would hope we never face.
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