What lengths would you go to in order to find your missing daughter? This is the central question of Prisoners. Hugh Jackman plays Keller Dover the father of a missing girl. Terrance Howard plays Franklin Birch, a father of another missing girl. The girls go missing during Thanksgiving dinner. Keller is a doomsday prepper and already has a disposition of un-trust towards the government. He is also a recovering alcoholic that seems to be doing ok at the beginning of the film.
Jake Gyllenhaal is Detective Loki, who has solved every case that has come across his desk. Paul Dano, the adopted son in There Will Be Blood, is the prime suspect, Alex Jones. Loki brings Jones in for questioning but is forced to let him go due to a lack of evidence. This doesn’t sit right with Keller and he starts down a dark path. Keller abducts Jones and tries to beat a confession out of Jones. He brings in Birch to assist in the torture. Birch is always apprehensive, but he goes along with the torture because he desperately wants to see his daughter again.
Keller and Detective Loki play mind games with each other throughout the film. It is a solid battle of wits as they work towards a common goal but on opposite sides of the law. The movie continually forces you to decide in your mind how far you would go to save someone you love. Keller Dover never gives up and continuously pushes to the more and more extreme. Detective Loki begins to lose his composure as this case grows ever more frustrating as it may be the first case he cannot solve.
The movie is tension-filled and keeps your eyes glued to the screen. It is a little gory at times, but it is well used to force you to confront how far you would go if these were the circumstances in your life. Viola Davis is Nancy Birch, the mother of one of the missing children, but her role is incredibly minor. Eventually, she finds out what Franklin is sneaking off to do and brings some compassion into the torture. She and Franklin have a different threshold for what is acceptable. This is a Jackman/Gyllenhaal film and everyone else are side characters.
I was surprised by the turn of the film. I watched this around the time that I watched Winter’s Bone. Both movies tackle a similar question in different ways. Winter’s Bone is all about using a backchannel system where Prisoners is entirely outside of the system. The police are not great at their jobs, especially after the reveal in the film. Winter’s Bone didn’t ask you to decide if Ree’s decisions were justified, but you have to confront that with Prisoners. There are some plot elements and lingering questions that are brushed aside via the use of drugs that I was a little disappointed with. There is a slightly ambiguous ending to the film as well. Overall, it is a good psychological thriller from two great actors. This is what director Denis Villeneuve is best known for, like Arrival and Blade Runner 2049.