Just when you think you’ve seen enough episodes of Law & Order to figure out any thriller before you’ve finished watching the trailer, along comes Prisoners.
A good thriller can be more captivating than any horror movie or action film if done correctly. Why? Because they provide us with a sense of realism that the other genres can often lack. There is something about the abduction of two little girls and their fathers doing whatever it takes to find them that infatuates us to our very core, even if we have no children or siblings. The ability to put ourselves in the same position as the characters on screen makes every eerie, suspenseful, and frightening moment feel that much tenser.
In Prisoners performances are key. Hugh Jackman and Terrance Howard serve as the fathers of the two children abducted on Thanksgiving Day. They represent every spectrum of human emotion under such nightmarish circumstances. Jackman is sensational as Keller Dover, who takes matters into his own hands when the frustratingly lethargic police can no longer lawfully hold the primary suspect. At times he seems as evil as the abductors themselves, but with each desperate action he takes, he makes us wonder if we wouldn’t react the same way. Viola Davis and Maria Bello are equally powerful as the girls’ mothers. They bring the sheer grief, desperation, and unrelenting hope that any mother would have in such a situation.
Perhaps the strongest performance, however, comes from Jake Gyllenhaal who stars as the detective solely responsible for solving the case. When he is annoyed with the lack of assistance from his colleagues, we as an audience are annoyed. When he feels pressure from Jackman’s angry Keller Dover, we feel pressure. And when he is fiercely frustrated, we feel every bit of it. We want him to be the hero, because with each second he is on the screen he is as invested with navigating this intricate maze of a crime as we are.
If there is a flaw to be found with the film, it is mainly in its length. At roughly three hours with previews it can feel slow at times. Perhaps the movie could’ve done without one or two curveballs. I also often wondered why Gyllenhaal’s Detective Loki was such a loner on such an important case. But in the age of countless television crime dramas, when we think we’ve seen it all, if a movie can provide you with an emotionally entrapping riddle that you can’t solve even when it’s right in front of you, it is without a doubt worth your time and effort.
FINAL GRADE: A