Denis Villeneuve directs Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal and Paul Dano in this grim thriller where a set of parents make dehumanising choices after their children go missing and the police release their only suspect.
Villeneuve is clearly a fine filmmaker. He approaches his cinematic storytelling with patient mastery, both unshowy yet confidently deliberate. He imbues his genre works with a craft that elevates them up out of being mere entertainments. And Prisoners, like all his other projects, skirts around some unwieldy issues without ever letting them consume the narrative propulsion. Faith, grief, child abuse, vigilantism, torture, truth, alcoholism, class and parenting are all explored in their darkest aspects. He wrings out committed, subtle performances from an enviable mix of big name stars and A-game supporting actors (Dano is excellently creepy). The film has small scale set pieces that grip and motor the generous running time. The thickly tangled mysteries and twists surprise though make sense as they unravel. And yet… and yet… the film leaves me cold. Both watches I appreciated the top to bottom quality of the production, the sensitive exploitation of the risky subject matter and the intelligence with which the ideas were batted about. Yet I just can’t get attached to Prisoners beyond deserved respect. An unjustifiable forcefield exists that stops the film from touching me, provoking me. Happened at the cinema, happened here on an open minded revisit. It is a movie that does everything right, except win me over. I’m left watching a daring formal exercise that doesn’t put a foot wrong, that should be my kind of cinema, wondering why I care so little about it… during and after.