A word of caution. Just because a trailer touts a list of actors with “Academy Award winner” or “Academy Award nominee” attributes doesn’t mean the film is going to be Oscar-worthy. In fact, it often means the production company is trying to bait unsuspecting viewers into thinking this movie is way better than it actually is. Which brings me to Prisoners…
Here’s how Warner Bros. describes the plot: “Prisoners, from Oscar-nominated director Denis Villeneuve, stars Oscar nominees Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal in a story that poses the question: How far would you go to protect your child? Keller Dover (Jackman) is facing every parent’s worst nightmare. His six-year-old daughter, Anna, is missing, together with her young friend, Joy, and as minutes turn to hours, panic sets in. The only lead is a dilapidated RV that had earlier been parked on their street. Heading the investigation, Detective Loki (Gyllenhaal) arrests its driver, Alex Jones (Paul Dano), but a lack of evidence forces the only suspect’s release. Knowing his child’s life is at stake, the frantic Dover decides he has no choice but to take matters into his own hands.”
Let’s start off with our Academy Award blah blah blah cast. Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Maria Bello, Terrence Howard, Viola Davis, Melissa Leo, and Paul Dano (who actually hasn’t won or been nominated for anything). “That’s a good looking cast,” you might be thinking. And yes, it was very promising (as it always is). But here’s the thing: Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal are really the only ones who get enough screentime to live up to their Academy Award blah blah blah talk. The rest are merely side characters who act as devices for the main characters’ stories.
That being said, all of them do a great job with their parts—Jackman and Gyllenhaal especially. Jackman’s Keller Dover is the always-prepared, skull-bashing father à la Liam Neeson in Taken, and Gyllenhaal’s Detective Loki is the young, career-driven detective who’s always come through on his special cases. Watching these characters go through their individual struggles as they fight for the same ending (which is finding the missing girls) is completely sympathetic. My only complaint with their characters is that I wish we could’ve seen some type of resolution with Dover. I don’t feel like he actually learned anything in all of this.
And the fact that he didn’t shows me that this movie had poor writing. And that’s sad because Prisoners started with a strong message of “How far would you go?” Which, by the way, can we talk about how honestly human that concept is? I mean, all of the apocalyptic movies and TV shows discuss the same thing. People will inherently turn on each other and their own morals the moment their lives are threatened—whether the threat is as simple as death or as complex as losing something they care about.
Back to my point about the poor writing though. How is it that you can have a movie all about this father (who is a godly man, of course) struggling to find his daughter through the use of extreme violence and then not have him learn something about himself or the true colors of humankind? Hell, make him learn something! Don’t just leave him in an underground hole with a bullet in his leg after he got caught by the kidnapper. Seriously, this how the movie ends for Dover. He doesn’t even sit in the hole, contemplating his life or asking God for forgiveness. Nope, we don’t see him again. Do you know why Prisoners ends this way? Because the writers spent so much time wasting time.
Don’t get me wrong. The first hour of this movie is great. It’s fast-paced, it’s intense, and it’s intriguing. But Prisoners is about 140 minutes long (You do the math). Why on earth do movies need to be this long? I can understand if you’ve got an epic tale—like Lord of the Rings—that can tell us a better story with some extra time. But the suspense/thriller genre does not ever need to be that long. Short and concise helps the action rise faster to thrill the audience. WHICH IS THE POINT. And that’s where this movie began to suck (Also, I had to see it at 12am in time for the morning radio show, so that probably made the long run-time suck even more for me).
Yes, rather than having enough time for an actual finish, the writers decided to spend their time on a nearly two-and-a-half hour wild goose chase with several red herrings and weird mystery novel subplots that don’t really have much to do with the kidnapping. Because that’s fun. Here’s an example of one headshakingly bad red herring, who seemed like he was copied and pasted from a mystery novel. It’s a creepy dude (naturally) who draws mazes all the time and jumps fences to get away from the detective. Oh, and he keeps boxes full of snakes and bloody children’s clothes he bought from an outlet store. Does any of this have to do with the kidnapping and the girls? Not really. The maze weirdness was the only purposeful part.
I figured out who kidnapped the girls around the hour mark. Needless to say, I was rather bored by the time they started all of this ridiculous shit. And I get that this movie was probably thrilling for people who aren’t as adept at spotting the villain (It’s the first person introduced in the story who doesn’t act creepy or suspicious, if you’re curious). But the writers could’ve easily fit one good red herring into a one-and-a-half hour movie and tightened up the script so that we didn’t have to listen to Jackman scream “WHERE IS SHE?!” for the eight-hundredth time.
Overall, Prisoners is well-acted by Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, and the supporting cast, but it failed to leave us with a point about the “How far would you go?” message that the movie seemingly beat to death in its nearly two-and-a-half hour run-time. Rather than keep the script solid and fast-paced, the last two-thirds of the movie are dragged down by red herrings and mystery novel-like subplots that felt more Dan Brown than Academy Award-winning. Let’s just say you shouldn’t always believe the hype.