We all tend to cringe when we see news of an Amber Alert. After all, is there anything more horrific than a crime against a child? It’s something every parent fears and, when it happens, can we allow the parents of the child in question to seek retribution? In Denis Villeneuve’s gripping new drama Prisoners is what Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) does when his little girl Joy is kidnapped on a bright Thanksgiving Day with her friend Anna — child of Keller’s good friends Nancy and Franklin Birch (Viola Davis and Terrence Howard) — the audience at the screening I attended betrayed no horror at the violence Dover inflicts on Alex Jones (Paul Dano), the slow, sad, man he suspects of the crime,
The detective charged with solving the case in a small Pennsylvania town is named Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal). He has great difficulty getting Keller Dover to understand that these things take time and there are steps that must be followed, laws about interrogation that must be obeyed. Among the interesting characters involved in all this is Holly Jones (Melissa Leo), the aunt with whom Dover’s suspect lives. She’s a sympathetic listener to Dover’s concerns.
The cast is uniformly excellent. Jackman gives what might well be the performance of his career as the anguished, angry father who, at times, seems straight out of the Old Testament. He is certain he knows who did it and seeks truth and retribution from his suspect. Dano is unbelievably believable as the damaged man-child suspect and Gyllenhaal is a fine anchor as the detective. In fact, even the state of Georgia, cast here as Pennsylvania, plays its part beautifully.
The plot doesn’t quite hold together but Prisoners is beautifully directed by Villeneuve who brings heaps of indie cred to this, his first mainstream film. It is equally beautifully shot by master cinematographer Roger Deakins, whose credits include a host of films that we’ve loved over the years.
There’s nothing easy about watching this 152-minute movie. We may leave questioning the actions of Keller Dover when we compare them to the opposite reaction and inaction of the other child’s parents. Prisoners is a film that is not easily dismissed or forgotten and is, if you can deal with the subject matter, well worth seeing.