film review: Prisoners (2013)

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film review: Prisoners (2013)

Denis Villeneuve, director of the Oscar nominated Incendies makes his English-language (and Hollywood) debut with Prisoners, starring Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal. When Anna Dover and Joy Birch go missing while out playing on Thanksgiving, we find out that Anna’s father Keller (Jackman) will stop at nothing to try and find his little girl.

In my spare time, when not watching movies, I like to relax with a bit of Law & Order: SVU or Criminal Minds. You get into a groove with them, they’re easy watching, despite the subject matter. Prisoners might have a bigger budget and a far more lauded cast… but if you’re a fan of those shows, what Prisoners all boils down is essentially nothing you haven’t seen before.

Which is not to say it’s crap. I really like those police procedurals, in fact I’d single out Law & Order: SVU as being responsible for some of the most harrowing and upsetting hours on television. At 2.5 hours long, it would be easy to say that Prisoners is like watching an extended episode of one of those shows… it’s not really, more accurately it’s like… an episode of Law & Order: SVU where they tell the full story of the victims family’s side as well. This isn’t a bad thing but, let’s be honest, when you go to the cinema you don’t expect to be wishing Benson and Stabler were on the case instead.

It’s a shame, because Hugh Jackman, Paul Dano and Jake Gyllenhaal do some great work here. Coupled with Roger Deakins cinematography – give that man an Oscar already, it’s beyond a joke at this stage – this could have been a fantastic modern thriller, up there with Fincher’s Se7en and Zodiac. Instead it’s hampered by a tired script which inexplicably pays alternately fastidious and careless attention to detail.

Ultimately the film spends too much time tied up in twists, turns and (ostensibly) moral dilemmas. I didn’t feel it at the time, it keeps a fair pace, but there really isn’t 153 minutes of real story there. Sure, following Hugh Jackman’s unrelenting commitment to exposing the person he thinks is the kidnapper while weaving in Gyllenhaal’s actual investigation is compelling viewing… but looking back there’s just too much time spent on pointless subplots, thrown in to try and make the film appear smarter than it is.

All that said, Prisoners is good solid entertaining drama and if you haven’t spent days, weeks or in my case possibly months, of your life watching TV police procedurals then there’s no reason you won’t get a kick out of this. Law & Order, in its various incarnations, has been watched by millions all over the world for over 20 years… If you have the appetite, misery makes captivating viewing.


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