Saturday, October 12, 2013

Movie Review: Prisoners

I will start by saying that Prisoners is one of the better thrillers I've seen in recent years - maybe since Michael Caine's Sleuth. It should also be noted that while this movie definitely succeeds as a thriller, it does not succeed as much as a film.

Hugh Jackman is one of two fathers who lose their daughters, when they were allowed to play outside after Thanksgiving dinner. Jackman eventually abducts a local simpleton (Paul Dano) who he suspects is involved, and is forced into a very trying situation. Meanwhile, Jake Gyllenhaal is the lead detective on the case, who must deal with both the girls' kidnapping, and Jackman's behaviour.

Plot: 4/5 - This movie succeeds as a thriller because the story is fantastic. It is easy to identify with each one of the characters, and understand everybody's motive. The issues were all too real, making the film almost uncomfortable to watch, but the plot was thick and engaging. The pacing was not an issue, but the eventual runtime (2.5 hours) may be a turnoff for some. I was aware of the passing time while watching the movie, but writer Aaron Guzikowski and director Denis Villenueve needed it all to tell the story they did. We get to see the characters make tough choices, and the overlying theme (we are all prisoners, everybody is forced into equally horrible situations) was none too heavy-handed.

Writing: 3/5 - This, to me, was probably the main weak point of the film. There is not a single laugh in the movie - and this is not to say that there should be (it is about an abduction), but rather that there are no real highs or lows - the tone stays much the same throughout, and the dialogue is very predictable: "Shut up! Shut up!" "Where the fuck is she?!" I only gave this a 3 because the dialogue was believable - I can see real people saying these things - and not really corny, but it doesn't really add to the film.

Acting: 4/5 - I'm on the record as an enormous Hugh Jackman fan. I don't think he's the best actor working, but he is very good, and he is a born entertainer (watch Real Steel). Everything he does is worth watching (except Australia). Paul Dano, also, is a favourite of mine. Nobody does pitiable better than he, and he is at his pitiable best in Prisoners. For much of the movie, it is the suspected child killer that you feel most sorry for.

Aesthetics: 3/5 - I started to write that the camerawork was very good, then decided to check on who was the cinematographer. Of course, it was Roger Deakins, probably the greatest cinematographer who ever lived. The dark tones and close shots will keep you queasy for the entire movie, and he does a masterful job of setting the tone in each scene, and throughout the movie. You can actually watch a Deakins movie for the sheer visual spectacle. The music went with the film very well, too. Master of minimalism Johann Johansson put together the perfect score - consisting basically of silence and low, flat tones that make what is happening on the screen absolutely riveting. I was not a fan of the editing - some of the sound effects sounded silly, there were too many fade-to-black scene endings (read: every scene), but it was OK.

Final Score: 70%

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