It's rare that I get out to see a movie in the theaters anymore. The cost alone, is enough to turn off most viewers and it just seems to be getting worse. The other issue is, finding a movie that I actually want to see in the theaters! It has to be something I want to see with friends or one that my wife and I can both agree on. 'Prisoners' was one of those rare films. I'm not sure if it was the cast or the story line or the trailers. There was just something about it that spoke to each of us. (My wife also has a thing for Hugh Jackman, so that never hurts the chances of seeing him in a movie.)
The trailers gave you an overall feeling of what to expect from the film and a bit of what the story would entail. What ended up being the actual film, was two and a half hours on an emotional roller coaster in the dark. No matter how comfortable you got with what was going on, the minute you caught your breath.... it hit you in the stomach again. Granted, there was a lot about it that was predictable and cliched, but that really didn't matter to me. The ending also left a little bit to be desired. It was a tad unfinished, especially considering that you had already invested almost three hours. I think 5 more minutes of exposition wouldn't have hurt. The result of this lead one movie goer to remark, "That was stupid." as she left the theater. I think she was wrong about the ending and the overall film. But, I imagine that there will be a few other folks that might feel the same way too. Indie films use the vague ending quite a bit and it's something that we've all come to expect. Big budget thrillers, with an 'A' list cast and a lot of great press usually have a more "idiot proof" finale. Regardless of one viewers rush judgement, the critics are all disagreeing. Across the board, it's getting rave reviews. I haven't heard any thoughts from any one I know yet. I'd be curious what the average movie goer thinks, versus that of a major newspaper or movie review site. I'm a bit jaded and consider myself pretty well schooled on films. I went to school for it, have seen more than I can count and have incorporated it into my everyday life. I love movies in every form: good, bad or indifferent. I love to talk about them, write about them and over think them. It's a passionate hobby. With that being said, me enjoying it and not really seeing the outcome too early.... says something about 'Prisoners'. Too me, it is a mark of quality. To be able to take a person like me and engage them and keep their interest for an extended period of time, is a feat all by itself! Granted, my wife caught on really early and made sure to tell me her theory. (Which was correct, by the way.) I preferred to just let it play out, without any preconceived notions. I like to be surprised every once and a while. Don't you?
I read somewhere that this film would make a good companion piece to David Fincher's 'Se7en'. They aren't really the same animal, but they do kind of have a similar feel. They both play out almost entirely in the rain/snow. There is very little sun in either film. They both deal with a cat and mouse type scenario. Good guys vs. bad guys, but neither is clearly bad or good. It's dark and doesn't have much light to lessen the weight of the drama. There's really no humor or action. It's really a story about choices. How far would you go to save someone you loved? And I honestly think that they did it with tact and some reality. There's moments of things being a bit over the top, but never so much as to lose the viewer. The violence is also understated and more implied than shown. It's quite effect and affecting.
In case you've missed the previews, the story goes like this: (taken from IMDB.com) "Keller Dover is facing every parent's worst nightmare. His six-year-old daughter, Anna, is missing, together with her young friend, Joy, and as minutes turn to hours, panic sets in. The only lead is a dilapidated RV that had earlier been parked on their street. Heading the investigation, Detective Loki arrests its driver, Alex Jones, but a lack of evidence forces his release. As the police pursue multiple leads and pressure mounts, knowing his child's life is at stake the frantic Dover decides he has no choice but to take matters into his own hands. But just how far will this desperate father go to protect his family?" This is the basic outline for the first half of the film. There's so much more going on than this. The story gets deeper, more complex and pretty damn dark. This element may turn off a few viewers, but it 'Se7en' is your kind of thing.... this will be a cake walk. Hugh Jackman is listed as the lead in this film, but Jake Gyllenhaal really is the main character in the story. Terrance Howard, Maria Bello and Paul Dano also star. Everyone in this film turns in a high caliber performance. I don't know that I'm seeing an Oscar nods here, but it's still early and there's a lot more films to come out this year. All the characters are fairly complex and engaging. No one is really one dimensional, however, Melissa Leo's turn as 'Holly', is a bit stiff. She's not got a lot of screen time, but she's a name actress with some critical acclaim. Because of that, I suppose I expected a bit more. Jake really was the surprise stand out. He doesn't fall into all of the trappings of the slightly burned out detective. He doesn't smoke or drink. He doesn't have an ex-wife and kids that he never sees. He's even offered a drink, at one of his lowest points, and denies it. I respect the decisions of the writer to not give us that stereo typed detective. It was refreshing. I actually wanted more back story on him than we were treated to. He is a fully 3-dimensional character and we end up knowing so little about him. I'm kind of hoping they make another film with him as the lead character. I should also mention Paul Dano's portrayal of Alex Jones. I expected him to run away with this film. He was pretty amazing, but he was so subtle that he kind of got overshadowed by the other characters. The funny thing is, that's what would've happened to his character in real life. That being said, he was pretty perfect in that role. Suitably creepy. Anyway.... that's my two cents.
All in all, this is a very satisfying piece of modern cinematic drama. I found myself fully invested into the story, within the first three minutes of the film. I watched every little action and re-action of each character, trying to find out all of the little hidden details. When the third act finally began, I was so ready for a payoff and I got what I wanted and then some. It bordered on being a bit too much. As every time you thought things were ending, it kept going. I think that's part of reason why the very last scene in the film seemed a bit abrupt. It was due to the audience expecting the film to keep going at parts where it felt like the ending, that when it was finally the end.... it felt like I should've kept going. Does that make sense?
My final thoughts are that this was a great film and one that deserves to be seen. In the theater or at home, I think it will still pack a punch. It's a kidnapping film that doesn't re-hash every other kidnapping film ever made. It doesn't rely on all of the cliched characters and their cliched actions and the stuff that you see in every single cop show ever made. 'Prisoners' instead relies on giving you a chance to do see something at a slightly different angle. It may be a bit over the top in the end. The story might just go a hair beyond the realms of belief, but I really didn't mind. I cared so much about the characters and the outcome, that I bought it all.... hook, line and sinker. I'm also not someone who left the theater feeling unsatisfied. I've seen vague endings before and ones that end so abruptly that you have no idea if the film is even over. This one gave you an ending that stops short, but isn't unfinished. There is closure. I give 'Prisoners' 4 out of 5 stars and I think my wife feels the same way too. Sadly, the lady who left before me, didn't agree. Her loss. This is one that will continue to bring in an audience, as long as the critics keep loving it. This film has also created an interest in the other works of it's director: Denis Villeneuve. I'd never heard of him prior to this, but I've got his other films queued up and ready to go at any time. The man knows drama. Highly recommended.
If you like this, check out: 'Se7en', 'Nightwatch' (1997) and any of the Hannibal Lecter films. (Although, those are all serial killers and not kidnapping films. They just feel similar.)
By the way, I hate the poster. Nuff' said.