Stuck in a puzzle – Prisoners review


By Jess Lomas
October 16, 2013

Many might think Liam Neeson has the kidnapped-daughter market covered with his Taken franchise, but Hugh Jackman gives him a run for his money in director Denis Villeneuve’s dark and twisted thriller Prisoners.

Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman), his wife Grace (Maria Bello), their son Ralph, and daughter Anna walk the short distance up the road to spend Thanksgiving with friends Franklin Birch (Terrence Howard), Nancy (Viola Davis), and daughters Eliza and Joy. They’re simple people living in an average neighbourhood, and their jovial afternoon accentuates the safety of familiarity.

When the younger children, Anna and Joy, go missing, the first suspect to be brought before Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) is the simple-minded Alex (Paul Dano), the driver of an RV the girls wanted to play on earlier in the day. He’s released without being charged, and as the investigation continues, attention turns to another local eccentric, Bob Taylor (David Dastmalchian). As the days pass, Keller becomes more desperate to find the girls, and is forced to question just what lengths he’ll go to bring them home.


The audience isn’t given much time to ease into the stressful storyline that unfolds in Prisoners and there’s little reprieve during the exhausting 153 minute runtime. Aaron Guzikowski’s (Contraband) script is like jumping down a rabbit hole and stumbling around in the darkness. At times the bleakness of the characters’ plight is claustrophobic.

The story moves from a simple whodunit to a tale of vengeful and desperate violence, questioning whether the end justifies the means and exploring the loss of innocence experienced by the parents. Keller is openly presented as a Godly man, and it is his struggle between faith and family – although handled in a conventional way with minimal focus – that proves most interesting psychologically.

Jackman’s take on Keller could be considered over-baked, and Gyllenhaal’s detective is far from inspiring with his blinking tics, but the strength of the film lies with Paul Dano and Melissa Leo (playing Alex’s aunt). Both deranged and desperate; they toe the line of caricature ‘weirdos’ and yet are the necessary unsettling elements to keep you intrigued as this overly ambitious thriller slowly runs out of steam. Ultimately bleak and repeatedly discomforting, Prisoners is a tense film experience that lingers in your mind.


Prisoners arrives in Australian cinemas October 17, 2013.

One Response to “Stuck in a puzzle – Prisoners review”

  1. Even when it does get pretty conventional by the end, I was still gripped by this movie. Good review Jess.

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