Fans of Denmark’s The Killing will love Prisoners. By which I mean it’s a not very good pot-boiler murder mystery (well, abduction mystery here) that has been made arty (in The Killing’s case this just means subtitled really) which means that in some way we’re supposed to fawn over it. Well no, I refuse. I’m calling Emperor’s New Clothes.
Before we get to the problems with the film, here’s the story. Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) goes to a friend’s for thanksgiving. Both families have two children each and later in the meal the two younger kids head back to Dover’s house to look for something. A couple of hours later and they’ve not returned. The two families call in the police, led by Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) and it appears there’s a breakthrough when Alex Jones (Paul Dano), a man with the mental age of a 10 year old, is found and taken into custody. There’s no evidence beyond the circumstantial though and Loki leaves to pursue other leads. Dover, however, is obsessed with the idea that Jones was responsible and kidnaps him, demanding to know what happened to his daughter.
All of this produces some interesting and tense moments, but it’s never truly convincing that Dover would go to the extremes that he does, despite his circumstances, let alone persuade his friends to become co-conspirators. More importantly, however, the resolution never truly convinces. With any mystery of this type you are looking for the identity of the culprit(s) to make sense from beginning to end and for their motivations to ring true. Here, the mastermind is both predictable and borderline nonsensical. The precise way in which in crime(s) took place are not properly explored and the motivations are justified by one line of dialogue which essentially blames idiotic religious views. It’s incredibly disappointing after a fairly solid (if very slow) build-up, and an underwhelming resolution to a film of this type can do nothing but colour everything that’s gone before.
I think it’s also worth noting that the opening to the film, featuring two happy families meeting for some Thanksgiving fun, is scored with a mournful, sorrowful, (and mildly cliched) double bass, telling the audience that any happiness is soon to be destroyed. I can’t help thinking that it would be better to open a film such as this with something that feels genuinely happy, rather than just a prelude to misery.
Anyway, ultimately this is really just pulp trash dressed up as commercial art house. If you want a modern crime thriller that reflects society in some way, while offering realistic characters and believable antagonists, pick up a George Pelacanos book.
Film Length 2hrs 33mins – Feels Like: 2hrs 30mins