Film Review: Prisoners (2013, Denis Villeneuve) ★★★★

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 When two young girls go missing and a suspect is released, one of the girls' father (Jackman) takes the law in to his own hands and goes to extreme measures in order to find his daughter and her friend. 


French-Canadian director Denis Villeneuve makes his English-speaking film debut in the form of Prisoners, a very American yet stylised crime mystery. Having earned an Oscar nomination for his last film, Incendies (2010), Villeneuve’s back with an equally jolly portrayal of US suburbia squatting beneath dirty-white skies, draped in a thin sludgy layer of snow. Prisoners is a dark yet moving depiction of two families as they struggle with the disappearance of their children. We follow disturbing scenes as a father is sent over the edge in the search of the truth and as he butts heads with a young Detective played by the eerily beautiful, loner cop, Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal)

The subject matter is inherently bleak, concerning the mysterious disappearance of two girls. But this isn’t a straight-up investigation, else there'd be no movie, right? The cops arrest an obvious abductor just a few scenes in; a greasy-haired creep with “the IQ of a ten-year-old” played by Paul Dano (you may know him from Little Miss Sunshine and There Will Be Blood). So it can’t be him, right? The father of one of the girls, Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman), begs to differ, and, naturally, being a good, Christian, American survivalist with a DIY bomb shelter, pursues his own vigilante exploration in to the girls' disappearance . Without enough evidence to hold him, Alex Jones (Dano) is released but it's not long before he himself is abducted and incarcerated in Dover’s DIY dungeon until he gives up the girls’ location. And did I mention that Jones has the IQ of a 10 year a ten-year-old? So we could be here for some time. Meanwhile, the real police continue their investigation and unfortunately, as an American crime film, audience members are treated to the odd police clichés being that Loki has never failed to solve a case and a character finds a vital clue only when throwing all this paperwork on the floor in a rage.

 Whilst it can be argued that the film is a little long at just over 153 minutes, Prisoners is a smartly structured, solidly performed thriller which kept me on the edge of my seat throughout. The excellent direction and wonderfully written screenplay allow the twists and turns to play out perfectly and maintain audiences' attention. We soon learn that not only is it a race against the clock to find the girls within seven days but to prove the innocence or guilt of Alex Jones as he is tortured by Dover. The actions of Dover are powerful not only due to the incredible performance by Jackman, which is sure to spark rumours of Oscar nominations **'tis the season** but because Dover is the personification of social and political context. As he interrogates Alex, one cannot help but be reminded of media imagery of the torture of American soldiers on Iraqi prisoners. Dover represents the grief-fuelled man of justice, a Christian man above and beyond morality and above all, the law, reminiscent of the US government's attitudes following the terrorist attack on September 11th. As the narrative unfolds, Dover prays that Jones is, after all he's put him through, guilty of abducting his children and even begins to question himself and if his actions are justified.

Overall, this film is up there on my list; one of the best films I've seen in a long time. As such, Prisoners gets a Sophie star rating of 4 out of 5 stars. I'd love to see this film nominated come Oscar season and urge you all to see it if you have a spare three hours for sure.

Until next time film lovers, 


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