Prisoners is the best film I have seen in a very long time. Suspenseful, brooding, beautiful and ultimately one that seriously challenges the audience. It is extremely well directed, beautifully photographed and features masterful performances. Despite all that, you should not under any circumstances see this film. Particularly if you are a parent. I left the theatre felling sick to my stomach. But yeah, I’m going to see it again anyway.
The film sets up as a standard kids are abducted, parents take revenge trope. It doesn’t go fully down that path, but rather eases into a Fincheresque brooding crime drama. All underpinned by a challenge to the audiences visceral and natural responses. That fucking exploitative hack Michael Haneke should be strapped to a chair and forced to watch this film repeatedly until he gets it.
I’m definitely going back to watch director Villeneuve’s earlier work. He establishes a strong sense of place, redolent and brooding. You can smell this movie; you can taste it. You can certainly feel it. Full credit to Roger Deakins for his part in this. Between Prisoners and Skyfall he has photographed two of the most beautiful films in recent memory. At this point I’ll go out of my way to see anything he has shot. The Production design and locations are perfectly executed as well. You feel like you’re walking on sand scattered on cracked linoleum watching this film.
The highest praise should be reserved for the cast however. Hugh Jackman gives the best performance of his career. It would have been so easy to play this part with only one note but he gets every bit of nuance and subtext onscreen. Jake Gyllenhal starts out slow but percolates and eventually boils to the point where he matches Jackman scene for scene. The two of them are great together. Maria Bello dies emotionally on screen, to the point where it’s really hard to watch her hurt so much. Terence Howard, Viola Davis and Melissa Leo are all also excellent in supporting roles.
Why shouldn’t you see this film, then? Because it’s hard on the audience. Really hard, like great art is. It forces you to inhabit a world you want no part of. It forces you to ask yourself questions not just about things you have done or would do, but also about how you have related to other films. It’s a gut wrenching experience. If you can handle it, then yeah, you really should see it. It really is not for everyone though.