Craig's First Take: "Prisoners"

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When Keller Dover's daughter and her friend go missing, he takes matters into his own hands as the police pursue multiple leads and the pressure mounts. But just how far will this desperate father go to protect his family?
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A movie about child abduction and abuse of the mentally handicapped has quite a bit on its plate, not to mention doesn’t seem like the most bankable of scenarios for any movie. Maybe “Prisoners” deserves some credit for the places it chooses to go, but it seems equally disappointing that those places feel empty.

Aaron Guzikowski’s script is best when examining the protective role of the father, in this case, Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman), a Pennsylvania man enjoying Thanksgiving with his wife (Maria Bello), their friends the Birch’s (Terrance Howard, Viola Davis) and both families when the youngest daughters of both couples go missing. Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) is first on the scene to investigate a suspicious RV in the area belonging to a mentally handicapped man named Alex Jones (Paul Dano), but lack of evidence forces him to release the suspect.

Jackman plays powerless, furious rage perfectly. It isn’t long before Keller finally breaks and commits the ultimate sin in trying to make his family whole again by kidnapping Jones and torturing the kid til he gives up the girls location. How far he will go turns out to be the only real question here and usually the answer in movies like this is pretty far. Loki meanwhile begins investigating abductions dating back 26 years. Gyllenhaal’s performance is reminiscent of his role in “Zodiac”, and his work pretty much begs for a better character but Loki isn’t nearly as defined, we get nothing from him but detective-isms.

Acclaimed Canadian director Denis Villaneuve (“Incendies”) is nearly brilliant in the first half, the rain-soaked locales, religious symbolism, creepy underground cellars, and intense chases, plus provocative concept from Guzikowski, make “Prisoners” look like we’re headed for something special. But when a character in the second half says the girls have been missing for 6 days, you sit back and wonder “wow, it’s felt like 6 weeks”. “Prisoners” is overlong but it also has a whole laundry list of other problems. Villains do unexplainable things just so the movie can spring some plot twists later, time is wasted by having Loki trail Keller, the movie isn’t nearly as suspenseful as it is just a few disturbing scenes that pop up here and there, and it gets fairly obvious where the end of this mystery is leading long before we actually get there. Oh, and while Jackman and a self-medicating Maria Bello play grieving parents well, Howard and Davis seem oddly vague.

I hesitate to call it a “simply Ok” movie though, just a disappointing one. “Prisoners” has talent all over the place and Villaneuve particularly has a Fincher-esque way around a thriller, he just needs to find one that ends as well as it starts.