What movie was that...?

24 September 2013

Prisoners

directed by Denis Villeneuve

You make it sound like an episode of SVU. No thanks.
                           -my wife, when I asked her if she wanted to see Prisoners with me.

I tip my cap to Roger Deakins, for the bulky, heavy (occasionally overcooked) mystery that is Prisoners looks spectacular. I could almost feel the cold, the damp, the dread and the darkness as I hunkered down for the two and half hour, bleakness-soaked tensioner overflowing with great talent trying their best (but not always succeeding) to commit to material that valiantly endeavors to not run off the rails. Sadly, that order is taller than this film, but the twin saving graces of Prisoners are the always genius of Mr Deakins, and the coiled, restrained, dynamite performance by Jake Gyllenhaal. It’s been a long time since I could unabashedly say that I think Jake Gyllenhaal is a tremendous actor without the usual retaliatory onslaught. Zodiac, Brokeback Mountain, Donnie Darko. Hell, I still stand by the absurdist comedy of Bubble Boy and the brainless grunginess of Highway, but never more so than in Prisoners has Gyllenhaal given us so much with so little. I mean that in the best, most refreshing possible way, and some credit for this must go to writer Aaron Guzikowski for avoiding the clichéd type of bottled story scene in which detective Loki (Gyllenhaal) sits down on a cold porch with Hugh Jackman and yammers on about a troubled childhood, rough past and/or possible similar scenario from his past in which he was once the victim. Instead, a handful of back porch tattoos, a half mumbled throwaway line about spending time in a home for boys and a bristling fury become more than enough for an artist like Gyllenhaal to tell us everything about detective Loki. Gyllenhaal’s performance alone is worth the price of admission (Academy, you better be paying attention), though I will say it’s criminal how infrequently a talent like Paul Dano graces the screen, and he does not disappoint as outsider Alex, the whisper of a person who becomes the source of frenzied suspicion among the two families whose daughters vanish. If well-made, well-acted (Jackman and Terence Howard were casting missteps, though they try their damndest) and thematically on the nose thrillers are your cup of tea, then Prisoners will be your film of the year, which sounds like an insult of the film’s merits, but it really isn’t. I quite liked it, and as I have said before, a film’s earnestness (which Prisoners has in spades), when it is pure, can be a saving grace when other elements don’t exactly stack up.

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