Prisoners: a Straightforward Thriller Elevated by Incredible Cinematography and Great Performances
Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal and Paul Dano carry and elevate a film that would be otherwise middling. It’s a clichéd concept executed remarkably well. The dreariness and reality of the situation and the central themes in correlation make the simple premise something more. The central theme of the film, one lifted from Breaking Bad, surrounds the capability of someone to do evil considering the right circumstances.
The first thing I noticed is the consistently near-perfect and cohesive cinematography. I later discovered that Roger Deakins was the director of photography, who has incredible prowess behind a camera. With works like Fargo, The Shawshank Redemption, and more recently Skyfall, the great look is understandable. Every frame has impeccable lighting and clever angles. The music and sound design add greatly to the look; the Foley work is exaggerated enough to be understandable, but still realistic. The music also adds to the sense of dread and also complements the cinematography.
The premise surrounds two daughters, one between Hugh Jackman and Maria Bello, and the other between Terrence Howard and the tragically underused Viola Davis. Initially the viewer is led to believe that Paul Dano is responsible for the kidnapping, but early on he seems like a red herring, due to him “having the I.Q. of a ten-year-old.” Red herrings are generally a huge annoyance to me, but it is an unimportant aspect of the plot. Dano (Alex Jones) becomes an object of Jackman’s (Keller Dover is his name in the film) rage. When he is not inventing creative torturing methods, he enlists the help of detective Loki (Gyllenhaal) to find his children. Loki in behavior is the classic cop character that does everything right and is under constant stress, but due to his abundant tattoos and impression that he has an important backstory (of which the viewer is never made aware of), his character becomes more interesting.
The best part of the film from a writing standpoint is the use of the thriller format to explore deeper themes than the premise would lead someone to think the film possesses. As I mentioned earlier, the most important theme is the exploration of the potential evil in everyone. Hugh Jackman absolutely nails this performance, his rage is extraordinarily believable. Jackman tortures Dano’s character, and his family is the subject of his verbal rage. Jackman’s character as evidenced by the great cold open, is a religious man. The theme of religion is not critical until the end, and seems out of place until then.
Prisoners’ emotional climax is an excellent piece of filmmaking, and the cinematography combined with the music and sound design make for a gut-wrenching five minutes. This sequence, which I will not spoil, is worth the admission price alone.
Prisoners is a film with a basic premise that was meticulously executed, a film that in no way innovates but is great nonetheless.
Running Time: 153 mins
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 81%
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