CHANNEL 4 4SEVEN E4 MORE4 FILM4 4MUSIC 4oD

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: Terrence Howard, Maria Bello, Paul Dano, Hugh Jackman, Viola Davis, Melissa Leo, Jake Gyllenhaal
  • Director: Denis Villeneuve
  • Producer: Andrew A Kosove, Kira Davis, Broderick Johnson
  • 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 River Of Grass

    River Of Grass

    Cozy and Lee go on the lam after an accidental shooting in Kelly Reichardt's debut feature

    On Film4: 4 Sep 1:00AM

  • Film4 Into The Storm

    Into The Storm

    A found footage, extreme weather thriller starring Richard Armitage, Matt Walsh and Sarah Wayne Callies

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

  • Face front, true believers! Up next we have a superhero double: Fantastic 4 Rise Of The Silver Surfer (7.15pm) + X-Men: First Class (9pm).

  • @PageFortyFive In that case - yes!

  • @PageFortyFive Perfect new comics day viewing!

  • RT @PageFortyFive: Drunken scrawl from last night reminds me @Film4 are showing X-MEN: FIRST CLASS tonight at 9pm. Public service announcem…

  • Coming up next at 5.25pm, Brendan Fraser, Josh Hutcherson & Anita Briem are off on an adventure in Journey To The Center Of The Earth.

Share