By Jacob Montgomery (Texas)


Allow me to tap into a great parental fear. You go to your neighbor’s house to celebrate Thanksgiving with your family. You’re having a great time, dinner was great, your football team won, but then something slowly dawns on you. Your youngest daughter, and the youngest daughter of your neighbors aren’t there. You go searching up and down the street, desperately calling their names, you go back to your house to see if they’re there, and then your son tells you that there was an RV that they were playing on and that there was someone inside it, and now it’s gone. Your daughter, and your neighbors’ daughter have been abducted.

In order to fully appreciate this film, you have to put yourself in the mindset of the characters, which is easy to do because in the brief time we see the families before the horrific abduction, we’re able to identify with them. Throughout the film, you have to keep asking yourself, what if it was your child? How far would you be willing to go to find them?

We are asked to grapple with this question as we watch one of the fathers (played rather scarily by Hugh Jackman) kidnap and brutally torture a suspect, a mentally challenged young adult (played by Paul Dano) who according to the police, has an I.Q. of a 10 year old. So the brutal torture scenes are even more uncomfortable to watch, because it could be happening to someone who’s completely innocent, and because a once decent man is the one performing the torture. And we are asked to think of what we would do in the father’s place.

Prisoners is especially poignant to me, because I’m religious, and the film’s theme about a daily spiritual struggle between good and evil, is powerful to me. We watch as a man who was a good Christian man slowly be consumed by the very demons he’s trying to fight. We also see 2 different characters, one of them is absolute good, and one of them is absolute evil. We see through their choices what makes them so noble and despicable, respectively. Through that, we’re reminded that it’s the choices we make in everyday life that shapes who we are and whether or not they’ll bring out the best of us, or the worst of us when tragedy strikes.

As result of these moral quandaries, spiritual examination, and beautifully directed shots, everything ties together so well that it makes Prisoners a near masterpiece. From its story crafted so tightly, and engaging dialogue that feels so real, this is a film where, despite so many horrible things happening, you can’t take your eyes away. The only thing that prevents “Prisoners” from being a perfect film is that it’s a touch predictable. However, despite that flaw, there are still enough twists and turns in it to keep it fresh and surprising.

The acting in particular is very strong. Everyone in this movie gets a chance to shine, but the one who steals the show by far is Hugh Jackman, who gives us a horrifying picture of a broken man who suddenly becomes violent, in what will no doubt result in his second Oscar nomination, and possibly first win. We also have Jake Gyllenhaal, playing Detective Loki, a young police detective who has yet to fail a case, in one of his better performances (he rarely gives a bad one), fresh off of his role as a police officer in End of Watch. As the movie goes on, Gyllenhaal succeeds in making the character look and feel fatigued as the film goes on, like he hasn’t slept in weeks, which in effect makes the audience feel the passage of time, and just how hard he is trying to rescue those girls.

Prisoners is not a film for everyone. Make no mistake; this is grim, depressing and often unpleasant film. But underneath all that grime and blood, is a story that is deeper than it first appears. If you are going in expecting just a revenge film about a kidnapping, this is not the place to look. If you’re interested in a morally and/or spiritually complex film about how tragedies bring out the best and worst of people, then look no further than Prisoners.

Rating: 10/10

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