When two young girls go missing from a sleepy suburban neighbourhood in Pennsylvania, evidence points towards a suspicious local named Alex Jones (Dano). Though he’s soon released by the police, one of the girls’ fathers (Jackman) is so certain of Alex’s involvement that he secretly kidnaps the young man and tortures him for answers. With time running out, the officer in charge of the case, Detective Loki (Gyllenhaal), grows increasingly obsessed with finding the person responsible…
As a dark and gloomy thriller that sees Jake Gyllenhaal become obsessed with capturing a mysterious bogeyman, Prisoners is noticeably reminiscent of David Fincher’s Zodiac. Boasting a similarly lengthy running time, it’s also sombre, moody and relentlessly serious, not to mention the fact that Gyllenhaal’s quest once again leads him to a number of investigative dead-ends. Truthfully, this grim procedural isn’t in the same class as Fincher’s, and it could be argued that the last hour isn’t as well-plotted or credible as the first ninety minutes (yes, Prisoners is two and a half hours long). But filmmaker Denis Villeneuve deserves credit for keeping us on edge throughout, while Rogers Deakins’ typically masterful cinematography lends the film an atmospheric sense of dread that almost becomes a character in its own right.
As the questionably-named Keller Dover, Hugh Jackman offers what is arguably his finest performance to date, demonstrating more simmering anger and barely-contained rage than Wolverine and Jean Valjean combined. Alongside him, Jake Gyllenhaal is given far less in the way of shouty speeches, but he’s also impressive as the twitchy, tattoo-sporting detective who absolutely never calls for backup. Elsewhere, the supporting cast is largely comprised of well-regarded performers (Melissa Leo, Terrence Howard, and so on), although the likes of Maria Bello and Viola Davis are sorely underused as the girls’ respective mothers. Paul Dano, meanwhile, looks appropriately creepy (sorry, Paul!) as the mentally-damaged prime suspect, and it’s to the film’s credit that we’re kept guessing about him right until the very end.
As a dark and relentlessly serious thriller that pits Jake Gyllenhaal against a mysterious bogeyman, Prisoners is noticeably reminiscent of David Fincher’s Zodiac. Though not quite in the same class, it’s gripping, intense and pulsing with chilly atmosphere.