Prisoners (R16)

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The ViewAuckland Review

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Review byMatthew Turner28/09/2013

Four out of Five stars
Running time: 153 mins

Brilliantly directed and stunningly shot, Prisoners is a powerfully gripping, morally complex thriller with a superb script and an Oscar-worthy performance from Hugh Jackman. It's also one of the best thrillers of the year.

What's it all about?
Directed by Denis Villeneuve and written by Aaron Guzikowski, Prisoners stars Hugh Jackman and Maria Bello as smalltown Pennsylvania parents Keller and Grace Dover, whose little girl goes missing, along with the daughter of their friends and neighbours, Franklin and Nancy Birch (Terrence Howard and Viola Davis). Local detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) arrests neighbourhood oddball Alex (Paul Dano) and names him as the chief suspect, but is forced to let him go due to lack of evidence, prompting Keller to take matters into his own hands.

The Good
Hugh Jackman delivers a career-best performance as Keller, an intense, tightly-wound man whose outer layer of hard-working familial responsibility hides terrifying depths of rage and paranoia (we glimpse his survivalist-style basement); if there's any justice, the role should garner him some awards attention come Oscar time. Similarly, Gyllenhaal is superb as the doggedly driven detective and there's strong support from Dano, Howard, Bello and Davis, while Melissa Leo is unrecognisably brilliant as always as Alex's mother.

It's remarkably tricky to keep an audience on the edge of their seats for over two and a half hours, but Guzikowski's detailed, morally complex and provocative script grips like a vice for every second of the film's 153 minute running time, forcing the audience to confront their emotional responses to Keller's actions and ask themselves what they'd do in his position. The result is an increasingly dark and disturbing atmosphere laced with powerfully resonant themes, to the point where Prisoners begins to feel like a parable.

The Great
Villeneuve's direction is assured throughout, expertly building both tension and dread until a nail-biting final act that will leave you gasping for breath. On top of that, Prisoners is genuinely stunning to look at, courtesy of acclaimed cinematographer Roger Deakins (widely regarded, and rightly so, as the best DP in Hollywood today), who weaves his usual magic with darkness and shadow and makes strong use of both the film's rural locations and the wintry weather conditions (most notably a breath-taking sequence where the pounding rain turns into snowfall).

To be fair, there are a couple of issues with the way the script plays out, but they're the sort of thing that occur to you later and encourage lively post-film pub discussion rather than the sort of thing that take you out of the film at the time.

Worth seeing?
Unbearably tense and powerfully gripping, Prisoners is one of the best thrillers of the year, thanks to a superb script, stunning photography, assured direction and terrific performances from a note-perfect cast. Highly recommended.

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Prisoners (R16)
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Content updated: 15/11/2019 23:58

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