Movie review: ‘Prisoners’

Jarrett Quick

On a blustery Thanksgiving day, the Dover and Birch families are thrown into disarray when their youngest daughters are taken. Although the main suspect, Alex Jones (Paul Dano), is mentally the age of a child, Dover family patriarch Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) is determined to find his daughter regardless of the price. Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) is also searching for the children, hoping to continue his streak of solving every case he has been assigned to.

Prisoners really impresses with its cinematography. The cold Pittsburgh fall made a perfect setting for the film, especially the scenes in the woods. The tall, barren trees are are shot as if they are grasping for the grey sky, really sending home how helpless and bleak the family feels towards finding justice. Everything is well balanced and perfectly focused all around, creating an effectively dark atmosphere. 

Cinematography aside, the acting was what really drove the film, thanks to Hugh Jackman’s especially fearful and gripping performance as Keller Dover. He goes to some very intense lengths to find his daughter, but above all he still seems to fear for the fate of his daughter. I can see how some would consider his performance a little much at times, I think it ultimately lets you experience what he is feeling because of the intensity of his performance. He plays a character always prepared, especially evidenced by his survivalist supply filled basement, trying to deal with a situation nobody is prepared for.

Jake Gyllenhaal also really delivered as Detective Loki. Loki is undoubtedly dedicated to his job, but not much else is said about the character’s background which really lets Gyllenhaal show who Loki is rather than tell the audience. Although the plot is revealed gradually, and there were moments I wanted to yell seemingly obvious connections to Loki, he still delivered on bringing a complicated character who is essentially good, but has an obvious darker side that leads to Loki confronting the consequences of his actions.

Viola Davis and Terrance Howard play Franklin and Nancy Birch, and they are a good fit among the other great acting in the film. When questioned how far they are willing to go for their daughter, you really feel the conflict they are dealing with. Viola Davis delivers a powerful performance alongside Paul Dano that was a definite highlight of the film for me.

The movie clocks in just over two and a half hours, and it earns every minute. The film juggles Loki’s detective narrative right along side Keller’s personal mission to find his daughter all while keeping a satisfying pace that really had me piecing things together right up until the end. Solid performances by Jackman, Gyllenhaal and fantastic supporting work made for an effective cast.