Thoughts on the movie ‘Prisoners’ (spoilers).

Went to see this one over the weekend in a rare free evening, a good movie with a few flaws but well worth a watch. However, this is really not a happy movie and, even though it was good, I don’t know if I would want to watch it again.

As the trailers have shown Hugh Jackman and Terence Howard are the fathers of two girls who go missing, they also have mothers (played by Viola Davis and Maria Bello) but the characters are so thin the actresses are wasted. To be honest, only Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal (who plays the detective searching for the children) get enough screen time for their characters to be worth talking about.

First of all, Hugh Jackman. He is brilliant in this, it is the role that will get him moving into real drama and thrillers and away from slicing things up with adamantium claws. His character has been brought up to believe that he should always be ready for anything (to the extent of having a basement any survivalist would be proud of) and struggles when he cannot find the children or do much about their disappearance. When the Police release a suspect without charge we get to the real point of the story, what would a father do to find his children – in this movie the answer is kidnap the suspect and find inventive ways of torturing him for information in a convenient abandoned building he owns. This is really what the story is all about, the actual kidnap of the children and the reason for it is background as the writer and director are clearly more interested in what lengths someone will go to under real pressure. Hugh Jackman plays the part brilliantly, never losing your sympathy despite doing some insane things. A lot of the actual torture is not shown but you do see the aftermath at one point, the implied violence does however deeply disturb.

Jake Gyllenhaal on the other hand gets a lot of screen time as the detective but never gets to flesh out his character. His character is alone, eating in a chinese restaurant on Thanksgiving – but no further part of his private life is shown or explained. His character has an unusual assortment of tatoos for a Police officer – no reason is ever given. He has no partner – no reason is given for this. He seems to be able to yell at his boss with no fear of recrimination – again, no reason given. Gyllenhaal plays the character well and does a great job of showing a cop doing his job but ends up being more of a plot device than a character because the script never fleshes out the character. The cop he played in End of Watch was far more interesting and well rounded a character.

Everyone else fades into the background except for the two villains of the piece, and they are villains rather than interesting characters. It is obvious from the get go that Paul Dano’s character knows something about the disappearance of the girls, it is equally obvious that his ‘aunt’ (played by Melissa Leo) is deeply disturbed. Their justification (and the only explanation you get for the kidnap) is a couple of sentences with some sort of anti-God message and there isn’t any real exploration of it or reasoning behind it then it is only more obvious that the girls being kidnapped is the excuse for the story rather than the reason for it.

This all sounds very negative but it isn’t. The cinematography is beautiful in this movie, even the abandoned, run down building they torture Paul Dano in looks fantastic. Hugh Jackman is brilliant, as is Jake Gyllenhaal even if he has less to work with. The supporting players (Viola Davis, Maria Bello and Terence Howard) are all brilliant, although you do wish they were used more as they are all fantastic actors in their own right. All in all, well worth a watch but maybe only once.

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