Jackman

Rare is the occasion when a trailer does anything except ruin a movie.

But I found the theatrical trailer for Prisoners to be creepy and haunting. I was hooked from the second I saw Paul Dano in what seemed to be a very disturbing role as a potential child kidnapper/molester. Paul Dano is a phenomenal actor, and I don’t need to be convinced to see one of his movies.

Then I saw the runtime: 153 minutes.

One-hundred and fifty-three fucking minutes. That’s nearly 2 1/2 brutal hours of a movie with a brooding, dark tone. No movie needs to be 2 hours. I don’t even like to watch a movie that is longer than 100 minutes. All the goodwill and promise exemplified in the glimpse of the trailer was thrown out the window.

BANNED!

I was looking for any and every reason to avoid watching this movie. But my frigid mindset towards Prisoners was warmed when I read how long it took Anderson Cowan (from The Film Vault) to pee after watching the movie. Yes, you read that right. My hatred for unnecessarily long movies was dissolved—at least in this instance—by a 93-second stay at a urinal. For a little context…

“93 seconds. Perhaps this is too graphic or too much information, but I feel that telling you the length of time I spent urinating (I clocked it with my phone for the sake of accuracy) after viewing Dennis Villendeuve’s dramatic thriller, helps illustrate just how gripping this thing is. I was loaded with 20 ounces of coffee and held captive in the theater, unable to pick a moment where I might escape for bladder relief without missing something big. This is unusual as in usually if I have to exit a film there are plenty of predictable turns and or obligatory exposition fill in scenes that lend themselves to this purpose. Not with this 153 minute epic and for that I was painfully grateful.”

While this review re-ignited my interest in Prisoners, the movie ultimately failed to deliver on its potential. Instead a gripping, gritty thriller, I felt like I was watching a whodunit mired in quicksand. My problem with Prisoners is that it was incredibly predictable for a whodunit, which is supposed to be a “complex, plot-driven variety of the detective story in which the audience is given the opportunity to engage in the same process of deduction as the protagonist throughout the investigation of a crime.”

Spoilers galore.

Don’t get me wrong, the first hour of Prisoners actually was fascinating and extremely engaging—especially considering it’s a character-driven drama. Hugh Jackman is terrific in his role as Keller Dover. I fucking love Hugh Jackman, and it’s a shame so much of his career has been relegated to just being Wolverine over and over again. The Dovers (Hugh Jackman and Maria Bello) head over to the neighboring Birches (Terrence Howard and Viola Davis) for Thanksgiving dinner. After a creepy scene where the daughters of the Dovers and Birches are playing near and on a parked RV, these two stupid girls escape the sight of their parents and decide they don’t need any pesky supervision.

Of course, the two girls disappear immediately. Jake Gyllenhaal comes into the picture as Detective Loki, who is the lead detective on the case and is on the scene when the RV is found next to a wooded area with Paul Dano at the wheel. Typically, I don’t care for either of the Gyllenhaals (Jake or Maggie) because I find them entirely replaceable, and Prisoners is a perfect example. For a character-driven movie, Jake Gyllenhaal added nothing to his character and there could have been 5-10 other actors substituted in his place. With that said, Gyllenhaal did a decent job even if his presence peaked with Alex’s interrogation.

Dano

Although Detective Loki makes a hard run at Alex, he doesn’t break his silent, disturbed demeanor and the police have to let Alex go because of a lack of any physical evidence in the RV. This is the instance where the façade of a great movie falls apart for me. If you haven’t seen this movie, stop reading.

Please, stop…okay.

As I’ve said a few times, Prisoners is a character-driven drama, which means the actors and actresses essentially serve as the primary focus and the cast really does a great job of driving the movie. But my question is who the fuck is responsible for that abomination of a make-up on Melissa Leo? It was distractingly awful and not even up to the standard of the worst Face-Off contestants. As soon as Academy Award winning actress Melissa Leo (playing Holly Jones, the aunt of Alex) shows up on the screen, anyone who is a movie-lover with a keen eye should know what is eventually going to unfold. I can only imagine the creators threw that abysmal old age make-up on Melissa Leo to try to fool people into not recognizing Melissa Leo and then wondering why she is playing such a seemingly small role.

A huge hint is also provided when Holly tells Alex to write his full name on the paper at the police station to retrieve his belongings. The camera lingers on Alex’s poor penmanship and frightened expression, which just blew everything up for me. You have to know that there’s no fucking way that Alex (played by Paul Dano) will actually be the one responsible for kidnapping the girls because the previews put the emphasis on him as the primary suspect. Of course there’s going to be a switcheroo surprise ending, and you see it coming a mile away if you notice Melissa Leo and feel her character’s calm, controlling presence looming and lurking. The foreshadowing was way too belabored when the side plot reveals a dead body in the basement of a priest who claimed the man confessed to him about kidnapping and killing children.

GyllenhaalI immediately made the connection that this man was the husband of Holly, who is now pulling the strings as the evil puppeteer orchestrating the chaos. When you know who does it in a whodunit, there’s no tension anymore and the build-up is meandering and monotonous. However, Prisoners still managed to hold my interest for most of the movie because of Alex and the phenomenal acting of Paul Dano as you don’t really know the level of his complicity. You know something is off with little Alex, which is exemplified with his cryptic statement—“they only cried when I left them”—to Keller as he’s outside the police station after being released. If only he shut his fucking mouth. Keller seizes on that statement as proof that Alex knows what happened and where his daughter is being held.

Although you can feel the raw emotion of Hugh Jackman as Keller, the movie misses a fantastic opportunity to make more of the interaction between Keller and Alex. Instead, the story quickly takes a torture porn twist as Keller kidnaps Alex and does anything he can think of to beat information out of him. If they were able to produce more depth with this portion of the story, I would have cared more about the question of how far is too far when you’re in Keller’s shoes as a parent with a missing child. Also, the contrast between Keller Dover and Franklin Birch (played by Terrence Howard) was also way too black and white for me. Wouldn’t it have been more interesting to see some interplay between Dover and Birch trying to decide together what they should do rather than Keller taking the lead and Birch taking a backseat?

Birch’s good behavior is rewarded by karma as his daughter (Joy) escapes. When laying in the hospital and questioned on what she can remember, Joy reveals that Keller was there, which is the final piece of the puzzle so Keller immediately leaves to go to confront Holly. Loki isn’t far behind, but Holly is a step ahead of both as she forces Keller to drink her late husband’s special mixture then forces him down the same ditch where his daughter was being held. Holly injected Dover’s daughter with a fatal solution right before Loki shows up and shoots her—though he takes one in the head in the process. Loki rushes the unconscious girl to the hospital and saves her life even though he could have killed a handful of people while trying to drive with blood gushing down his face and losing his vision as a result of the bullet wound.

When it comes down to it, I had way too many problems with the story and execution of the journey—let alone all of the issues with the end destination. Settling on the “waging a war against God” angle seemed trite and uninspired. And the shitty fade to black, Sopranos-esque ending was an admission that they couldn’t create a satisfactory conclusion even if it strayed from the book ending. Although the movie was nearly 2 1/2 hours, I wanted some sort of resolution after it was revealed Alex was the first child that Holly and her husband kidnapped. Seeing him try to find some sort of normalcy after experiencing that trauma or at least see the moment the mother was reunited with her son would have been heartbreaking. Without a meaningful resolution, the ending is a jarring shift that drags the rest of the movie down dramatically.

I wish Prisoners delivered on its potential, but it is a pretty lackluster execution of a great idea. If only I stuck to my guns and banned the movie. Again, no movie should be 2 hours or more. Prisoners needed an editor who could’ve taken a machete to hack away and clear the clutter. I can recommend watching the first hour or so, but I was begging for it all to end—much like little Alex. Mercifully, it ended.

3 out of 5 stars

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