Film Reviews

PRISONERS

By • Sep 26th, 2013 •

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After this, you will say: Jackman also plays Wolverine?

PRISONERS starts off with Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) and his son Ralph (Dylan Minnette) on a deer hunt for Thanksgiving dinner. Keller is a devout Christian and, preparing Ralph to shoot the deer, recites The Lord’s Prayer using – not only the words attributed to Jesus – but the version mandated for use by Henry VIII when he separated from the Catholic Church and created the Church of England.* What else would you expect from a bloated megalomaniac with absolute power?

Keller believes in being ready for anything and prepared. He’s got a basement of supplies just in case the apocalypse begins in rural Pennsylvania.

Keller, his wife Grace (Maria Bello), their good friends Franklin (Terrence Howard) and Nancy Birch (Viola Davis) and their children have finished dinner when the two youngest children, Anna Dover (Erin Gerasimovich) and Eliza Birch (Zoe Borde), go outside to play and do not come back.

The neighborhood is quiet. The only thing out of place is a beat-up RV parked on the street. Within hours, Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) is interviewing the parents and begins an investigation. Loki finds the driver of the RV, a young man, Alex Jones (Paul Dano), who has the mental ability of a child. Without any evidence linking Jones to the kidnapping, Loki must allow Jones to leave police custody after two days. Jones is looked after by his aunt Holly Jones (Melissa Leo).

Keller, a man who prides himself of being able to take care of his family, goes “medieval on Jones’s ass” (and frankly, I can only recall one father who chose to do what I would do if someone in my family was murdered and I knew who did it. The father fatally shot a man suspected of kidnapping and sexually assaulting his 11-year-old son. The man had pleaded no contest to manslaughter in the death of Jeffrey Doucet, 25, who was shot in the head in the Baton Rouge airport in March 1984. He was given a suspended prison term and sentenced to five years of probation. The shooting occurred as deputies were returning Mr. Doucet in handcuffs from California, where he had been arrested on a charge of kidnapping).

The French-Canadian director, Denis Villeneuve, whose heartfelt letter was read to the pre-screening audience, brings a sensually dark aura to the film. It’s not a by-the-numbers kidnapping of a child caper, but an inside look at what really goes on when a tragedy like this hits a family.

In so many Hollywood films about child kidnapping – RANSOM, MAN ON FIRE, TAKEN and THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, to name just a few, the mothers of the missing children are concerned – nothing more.

Grace is inconsolable. Drugged so she can sleep all day and night, when she is awake all she can do is grieve the loss of her little girl. When I see mothers of missing children being interviewed, I think: if that was me, I’d be in the hospital under medication with unwashed hair and teeth not brushed. When released I would be living in a tent in the parking lot of the police station.

Howard, playing the reasonable best friend, has a difficult role. Jackman’s Keller has only one way to go – forward with vengeance. Howard must straddle the fence of emotions. He wants his little girl back but he will only go so far.

Kathy Griffin, in her Bravo special “Tired Hooker”, did a set on seeing Jackman’s one-man show “Back on Broadway”. Griffin was surprised to see a very different side of the actor who portrays the very tough Wolverine in the THE X-MEN movie franchise. She famously said Jackman was “fabulousness”, but she was taken aback at “how gay his show is.”

A friend said he will always see Jackman as “Wolverine”. However, in PRISONERS, Jackman completely makes you forget “Wolverine” or that he is a fabulous song-and-dance man. Hugh Jackman is terrific. He keeps elevating Keller’s rage where you wonder if the star of Jackman’s caliber will actually play this crazy a guy to the end or will he be redeemed somehow so we know he was right all along?

Gyllenhaal, taking a break from working out, gives Loki a very strange tic. He gives a grave, conscientious performance as a detective dealing with out of control fathers. Both Jackman and Gyllenhaal look their ages and neither slips into Movie Acting 101.

While the biggest nitpicking is the lack of realism in the portrayal of the police assigning just one detective to investigate a kidnapping of two young girls, the emphasis is on the character of the fathers and the detective, not Pennsylvania’s police protocols.

And the denouement? It was slick and appreciated by the audience I saw the movie with.

*The last sentence of the Church of England’s Lord’s Prayer ends “For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, now and forever “, is technically termed a doxology. In the early Church, the Christians added the doxology to the text of the Our Father. It was practice of concluding prayers with a short, hymn-like verse which exalts the glory of God. Later in 1541 (after his official separation from the Holy Father), Henry VIII issued the edict adding the doxology when he created the Church of England. The Roman Catholic Church does not use this version.

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