Viewing your Watchlist and recommended content requires Javascript

  • 15
  • Drama
  • 2013
  • 153 mins

Prisoners

Film4 Prisoners

Synopsis

When his six-year-old daughter and her seven-year-old friend mysteriously vanish on Thanksgiving Day, Pennsylvania carpenter Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) takes the law into his own hands.

About

It's no surprise that Aaron Guzikowski's original screenplay for Prisoners languished on The Black List, a register of inexplicably unfilmed scripts, for some time. It features elements seldom found in formulaic Hollywood studio projects: complicated characters, ambiguous motives and serious moral dilemmas. It's less of a surprise that French-Canadian film-maker Denis Villeneuve, whose award-winning 2010 film Incendies possessed all these qualities in spades, chose this script for his first English-language feature. Or that having done so, he was able to attract a heavyweight cast of actors - Hugh Jackman. Jake Gyllenhaal, Maria Bello, Terrence Howard, Viola Davis, Paul Dano, Melissa Leo - to play both the leading parts and the more modest supporting roles.

Prior to the disappearance of his six-year-old daughter and her seven-year-old friend, Keller Dover (Jackman) was a hard-working blue collar guy who prayed for the best but prepared for the worst. A survivalist whose basement was stuffed with tinned food and emergency equipment, Dover lived by his father's maxim: be ready. But nothing had prepared him for a parent's worst nightmare. His wife Grace (Bello), numbed by grief and anti-depressants, berates him for not protecting his family. But Detective Loki (Gyllenhaal) is forced to release the chief suspect (Dano), a man in his twenties with the mind of a child, after only forty-eight hours. Knowing that his daughter's chances of survival are reducing with every passing hour, Dover abducts and tortures Alex, with the reluctant help of the other girl's father (Howard) and his passively complicit wife (Davis). Encouraging the audience to identify with the father's dilemma, Villeneuve's film poses the ethical question, How far would you go, and what might you be capable of?

Persistent rain and Roger Deakins' extraordinary, near-monochromatic cinematography establish a murky atmosphere, creating a sense of characters enveloped by a miasma of impotent rage, primal fear and nagging doubt. Villeneuve's emotionally charged direction draws the best from the actors, including the ever credible Melissa Leo as the suspect's over-protective aunt – a woman scarred by the disappearance of her husband and the earlier loss of her own son to cancer. Even so, Jackman overplays his portrayal of the ruthlessly pragmatic Dover; this contrasts starkly with Gyllenhaal's laser-focused portrayal of the meticulous Detective Loki, which reveals layer upon layer of subtle complexity. Sadly, there are echoes here of Clint Eastwood's Mystic River, whose dense plotting and thought-provoking seriousness were ultimately undermined by a reliance on residual generic trappings and audience gullibility – as exemplified here by a transparently ludicrous red herring and a credibility-stretching plot twist.

Cast & Connections

  • Actor: Melissa Leo, Paul Dano, Viola Davis, Jake Gyllenhaal, Terrence Howard, Hugh Jackman, Maria Bello
  • Director: Denis Villeneuve
  • Producer: Kira Davis, Broderick Johnson, Andrew A Kosove
  • Photographer: Roger Deakins

In a nutshell

A disturbing crime thriller, elevated by subtle storytelling, challenging ideas and fine performances, but let down by some lazy generic tropes and jarring implausibilities.

by Nigel Floyd

Latest from Film4...

  • Film4 Milius

    Milius

    A documentary examining the life of filmmaker John Milius

    On Film4: 7 Apr 11:05PM

  • Film4 Suffragette

    Suffragette

    Meryl Streep, Carey Mulligan and Helena Bonham-Carter star in Sarah Gavron's drama about the foot soldiers of the early feminist movement

  • Channel 4 Blog

    Dark Horse: Illustrated poster released

    A new illustrated poster has been released for Louise Osmond's award-winning inspirational documentary Dark Horse: The Incredible True Story Of Dream Alliance, designed by Brighton-based artist Rich

  • Channel 4 Blog

    Dark Horse: Welsh Premiere Announced

    [caption id="attachment_4385" align="aligncenter" width="600"] Dark Horse: The Incredible True Story of Dream Alliance[/caption] Sundance Award winner Dark Horse: The Incredible True Story Of Dream A

Rent now on Film4od

Available to rent for £2.49

Register with Film4.com

Personalise your Film4 experience

  • Set film reminders
  • Build your watchlist
  • Get film suggestions

or Register

Tweets @Film4

  • Our late-night highlight at 1.25am is Palme d'Or-winning Romanian drama 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days. http://t.co/O7ciiSppK5

  • In a career that spanned 6 decades, Conrad L. Hall shot Cool Hand Luke, Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid, Marathon Man & American Beauty.

  • Road To Perdition was nominated for 6 Oscars in 2003 and won one: Best Cinematography, posthumously awarded to Conrad L. Hall.

  • RT @EatMyHalo: Hey, set your recording devices for Howl's Moving Castle at 11am on Film4 tomorrow. Best Studio Ghibli by miles.

  • "Sons are put on this earth to trouble their fathers." Tom Hanks, Paul Newman & Jude Law star in Road To Perdition at 11.10pm.

Share