Tuesday, December 09, 2014
Prisoners (2013 film)
Directed by Denis Villeneuve and written by Aaron Guzikowski, Prisoners is the story of two girls who had been abducted as a father and a detective both go on the search to find the girls. The film is an exploration into abduction as a man of the law tries to do things right while a father becomes obsessed with his search. Starring Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Terrence Howard, Maria Bello, Viola Davis, Paul Dano, and Melissa Leo. Prisoners is a gripping yet eerie suspense-drama from Denis Villeneuve.
Set during the Thanksgiving holidays in a small town in Pennsylvania, the film is about two girls who have been abducted as one of their fathers goes into a frantic search to find them while a detective does the same as the latter delve into many clues about abductions in the town. It all plays into two men who are both trying to find two girls as they suspect a young man with a RV truck but when evidence proves to have little results. It would force Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) to take the law into his own hands which would cause a lot of problems and obsessions for Dover. Even as Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) begins to notice Dover’s troubled behavior as he is taking on the case with great care as he goes even deeper into dark secrets as it relates to many abductions in the town.
The film’s screenplay by Aaron Guzikowski explores what men will go through to find two girls who had been abducted on Thanksgiving Day as it plays into this search where Keller Dover and friend Franklin Birch (Terrence Howard) do whatever to find their daughters who were just going to Dover’s house on that day and were supposed to return. Instead, something goes wrong where Keller’s son Ralph (Dylan Minnette) reveals that he saw a RV truck nearby where the girls were playing nearby as Detective Loki manages to arrest the owner in a mentally-challenged young man named Alex (Paul Dano). Though Loki believes that Alex is innocent yet wants to keep an eye on him, it only angers Dover whose obsession with finding his daughter has him kidnapping Alex and torture him in his father’s old home as Franklin and his wife Nancy (Viola Davis) both realize what Dover is doing. For Franklin and Nancy, it makes them uneasy while Dover’s wife Grace (Maria Bello) has fallen apart to the point that she thinks her daughter is dead and blames herself.
The diverging paths that Dover and Loki take showcases what these two men would do as Dover basically suspects Alex due to comments or the fact that he was singing a variation of Jingle Bells which only triggers Dover’s rage as he would descend into alcoholism. While Detective Loki is the more practical of the two men, he would lose himself in the case as several false leads and troubling clues only get him in trouble as a man he suspects in Bob Taylor (David Dastmalchian) would only lead him to different paths. Loki would also question a pastor in Father Dunn (Len Cariou) who would also have some very strange answers that doesn’t just relate to the case but also in the town’s dark history concerning abductions.
Denis Villeneuve’s direction is very entrancing for the way he explores life in this small town in Pennsylvania that looks like every other town in America. Especially as it’s set during the Thanksgiving/Xmas holiday period where there isn’t a lot of sunshine but a lot of gray skies with bits of rain and snow to set the mood of the film. It’s quite grimy in its look as it starts off very calm until the drama kicks in where Dover and Franklin embark into their own search with no result which leads to Detective Loki who is called in as he was eating all by himself in a Chinese restaurant on Thanksgiving. The interrogation scenes are very intimate yet some of the drama that plays into the search and Dover’s own troubled descent does drag the film a bit where it has a sense of what is going to happen.
Things do pick up in the second act once it becomes clear of how far Dover will go to find answers much to the disgust of Franklin and Nancy as the direction becomes much tighter in terms of its suspense. Especially in the room that Alex would be in as Dover’s own form of torture to get answers where Villeneuve’s use of close-ups and medium shots come into play. Even in scenes relating to Loki’s own investigation where the use of recorded video footage in the interrogation scenes showcase how Loki can be in control or sometimes lose control. Things do come to ahead in its third act where it plays to the lost sense of obsession that looms in Dover and Loki trying to be the one person to make things right. Overall, Villeneuve creates a very terrifying yet powerful film about two men and their obsession to find two little girls who have been abducted.
Cinematographer Roger Deakins does phenomenal work with the film‘s cinematography as it has a very naturalistic look for many of its daytime interior/exterior scenes while the usage of lights and candles for scenes at night are truly exquisite to play into the dark mood of the film. Editors Joel Cox and Gary D. Roach do excellent work with the editing to create some unique rhythms to play into the suspense and drama as it often has this slow burn to play into the mystery over what happened to the girls. Production designer Patricia Vermette, with set decorator Frank Galline and art director Paul D. Kelly, does amazing work with the look of the homes the characters live in as well as the home that Dover‘s father lived in that he would use to torture Alex. Costume designer Renee April does nice work with the costumes as it‘s mostly casual to play into the look and seasonal setting of the film.
The makeup work of Donald Mowat and Pamela Westmore is brilliant for the beat-up look that Alex would sport after the abusive torture that Dover would give him as well as the look of his aunt Holly (Melissa Leo). Visual effects supervisor Phillip Feiner does terrific work with the film‘s minimal visual effects for the look of snowfall in a few scenes to play up as set-dressing. Sound editor Robert Alan Murray and sound designer Tom Ozanich do superb work with the sound to play into the sense of terror such as Alex‘s screams inside Dover‘s torture chamber as well as some eerie scenes set at home. The film’s music by Johan Johannsson is fantastic for its haunting score that is a mixture of low-key orchestral music and piano pieces with some ambient textures to set the dark mood while music supervisor Deva Anderson brings in a soundtrack filled with music by Radiohead, Ocean, and other traditional pieces.
The casting by Kerry Barden and Paul Schnee is great as it features notable small roles from Wayne Duvall as Detective Loki’s superior Captain O’Malley, Len Cariou as Father Dunn, Zoe Soul as Franklin and Nancy’s teenage daughter, Kyla Drew Simmons as Franklin and Nancy’s adolescent daughter who is abducted, Erin Gerasimovich as Drover’s daughter Anna who is also abducted, David Dastmalchian as a person Loki suspects in the film’s second act, and Dylan Minnette as Dover’s teenage son Ralph who watches over his mother while seeing his father begin to fall apart. Melissa Leo is terrific as Alex’s aunt Holly who claims that her nephew is innocent as she becomes a key player in the film’s third act. Paul Dano is excellent as Alex as a young man who is suspected of abducting the girls as he is captured and tortured by Dover.
Maria Bello is wonderful as Dover’s wife Grace as a woman ravaged by her daughter’s disappearance as she becomes lost in grief while Viola Davis is superb as Nancy Birch who discovers what Dover is doing as she tries to find reason as well as find her daughter. Terrence Howard is fantastic as Franklin Birch as a father who is coping with his own loss as he discovers what Dover is doing as he becomes anguished with wanting justice but also wanting to do things in the right way. Jake Gyllenhaal is incredible as Detective Loki as this detective who is trying to find the two girls any way he can while dealing with Dover’s insistence to find them as Gyllenhaal brings a sense of determination and care into his character as someone who is trying to do what is right. Finally, there’s Hugh Jackman in a remarkable performance as Keller Dover as this man who is obsessed with finding his daughter as he begins to suspect Alex as he descends into madness and nearly loses himself into what is important as it’s a very dark role from Jackman.
Prisoners is a fantastic film from Denis Villeneuve that features phenomenal performances from Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal. While it’s a film with some flaws, it is still compelling in exploring how far men will go to retrieve someone that they care for as well as someone whose job is to find that person and deal with the consequences. In the end, Prisoners is a marvelous film from Denis Villeneuve.
Denis Villeneuve Films: August 32nd on Earth - Maelstrom - Polytechnique - Incendies - Enemy (2013 film) - Sicario - Arrival - Blade Runner 2049 - Dune-Part One (2021 film) - The Auteurs #68: Denis Villeneuve
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