After being totally blown away by the current epic Blade Runner 2049, I decided to pick up and screen a copy of Prisoners (2013), one of Villeneuve’s earlier movies. A rainy, gloomy, but joyous Thanksgiving afternoon quickly morphed into two parents’ worst nightmare, the disappearance and abduction of their children. What followed for the next 2 hours and 33 minutes was perhaps the most intense and gut-wrenching movie that you will ever see, and the intensity never let up throughout the entire film. Most of the film centered on the investigation by Lt. Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) and his interaction with potential witnesses and suspects. A parallel story developed when one of the parents, Keller Dover, decided to take matters into his own hands.
Prisoners (2013) deserves to be mentioned with films like Silence of the Lambs and Se7en; it was just that chilling and riveting. It is the kind of movie that will stay with you long after you watch it. Denis Villeneuve made yet another movie that is richly layered but not overly complex. The cinematography by Roger Deakins was beautiful, from the battleship gray and seemingly always raining or snowy skies, down to the ugly drapes and the Harvest Gold appliances and teapot in Holly Jones’s house. Aaron Guzikowski’s screenplay was not perfect, yet he wove a story that was somewhat predictable but still quite intriguing.
*Some Spoilers Below*
Religious Themes- Oh boy, neither God nor religious faith fared well at all in this movie. We had a local priest who was on the Sex Offenders Registry. Loki found him passed out drunk on the floor of his house, with a bound and gagged dead and decaying body in his basement. Keller Dover, a religious and devoted family man, totally went off the rails after the two girls disappeared. He embraced unimaginable evil, torturing a boy who was himself a victim. These scenes were as incredible as they were difficult to watch, but even the transformed Keller was not the most evil character in this disturbing movie.
Holly Jones and her husband were deeply religious Evangelicals until they lost their son to cancer. They then turned to unthinkable evil “Making children disappear is the war we wage on God”, coldly stated Holly Jones. “Turns them into demons like you”. More on Holly Jones later, but she needs to be in my Movie Villain article as one of the most ruthless female villains of all time. Yes, and if things were not bad enough, there were snakes too.
There were religious symbols everywhere and these symbols represented the real story in this movie. It was not merely a story about the devastating kidnapping and disappearance of two young girls. This movie highlighted how humans facing adversity sometimes became terribly lost and cannot determine right from wrong, or morality from immorality. Morality becomes an impossible maze.
Acting- The acting in this movie was superb. Denis Villeneuve must have a special relationship with his actors because he fully exploited their potential. There were many other notable performances, especially by Viola Davis and Terrence Howard, as the other bereaved and devastated parents, but here are some highlights:
- Hugh Jackman-Keller Dover was the father of Joy, one of the abducted girls. He was also a Prepper, a survivalist, and a deeply-religious family man. After the disappearance of his daughter and her friend, he went absolutely berserk in his frantic efforts to find his daughter. His Prepper and Survivalist personas worked against him and were not helpful at all; consequently he handled this disaster poorly. This was perhaps the best acting performance ever by Hugh Jackman.
- Jake Gyllenhaal– Lt. Loki was a cool, collected and highly effective police detective. He was focused, analytical, methodical and relentless, unlike Keller Dover, who abandoned reason and operated on misguided emotion. I don’t think that Gyllenhaal is capable of a bad performance, and he certainly delivered here. He was as cool as the other side of the pillow until he snapped in a devastating interrogation scene. Undaunted, he never quits until the case was solved.
- Melissa Leo- Oh, boy. Move over Annie Wilkes in Misery. Lady Kade in Ran had nothing on this ruthless bitch. “My loving God killed my kid with cancer, and now everyone is going to pay”. Holly Jones gets the drop on Keller Dover and it’s like being bitten by black mamba, there is to be no escape. You think her physical torture skills are outstanding? Wait till she gets a hold of your mind. Totally and completely Ruthless.
- Paul Danno- How do you flawlessly execute a tour de force when you only utter a dozen words in the entire film? Let Alex Jones show you the way. You think you know what is going on (Oh, man, that scene with the dog!), but do you really? His acting was so convincing that you forget that this is only a movie. This is a performance you will never forget.
- David Dastmalchian- If you need a creep for your movie, this is your guy. Bob Taylor was one of the many prisoners in this movie and immediately caught the attention of Lt. Loki. Your body might be free, but not your mind after Holly Jones gets her evil mitts on you. David Dastmalchian played a mysterious, creepy and horribly damaged human being to perfection. He was clearly still stuck in “the maze” in which there was no escape.
Prisoners was a near masterpiece. There were many levels of imprisonment in this great movie, both physical and psychological. Villeneuve took the horrible specter of every parent’s nightmare and made it much, much worse. The flaws of the ultra-religious and over the top paranoid Preppers and Survivalists were exposed and decimated. Prisoners was a dark and haunting experience that you will never forget. If you are looking for an uplifting experience and happy endings, this movie will not be for you. If you enjoy fine cinema that will make you squirm and think about the consequences of moral ambiguity, Prisoners may be for you, but I doubt if you will want to watch it more than once.
Quotes, one-liners and other memorable lines:
- “Pray for the best, prepare for the worst” -Keller Dover
- “Making children disappear is the war we wage on God” -Holly Jones
- “They only cried when I left them” -Alex Jones
- “Do me a favor, Captain. Go fuck yourself” -Lt. Loki
- ” You know the most important thing your grand-dad ever taught me? Hmm? Be ready. Hurricane, flood, whatever it ends up being. No more food gets delivered to the grocery store, gas stations dry up. People just turn on each other, and uh, all of a sudden all that stands between you and being dead is you.” -Keller Dover
- “Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven…” -Keller Dover
- “Where’s my daughter? Where’s My Daughter! WHERE’S MY DAUGHTER? WHERE IS MY DAUGHTER?!?!” -Keller Dover
- “Look, kid, we can’t always save the day. All right? We’re just cops. Janitors.” -Captain Richard O’Malley
- “Drink it, Mr. Dover. Or I’ll kill you right here in my kitchen and bring your daughter in here and have her scrub your brains off that floor” -Holly Jones
- “You want me to get in there, you’re gonna have to shoot me. I’m not gonna get in just cause you asked.” -Keller Dover
- ” [Blam! Blam!] -Holly Jones [Shooting Keller in thigh]