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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


REVIEW: The 2013 film ‘Prisoners’ leaves a lasting impression

Farrah Rodriguez
A desert scene plays over a movie theater screen.

In my opinion, the best films leave the viewer with a question, something they can ponder and continue to examine long after they’ve finished their popcorn. Denis Villeneuve’s “Prisoners” (2013) does just that to a rather disturbing extent, forcing both the protagonist and the viewer to question how far they would be willing to go to protect the ones they love, and where to draw the line, if at all. 

We follow Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) as they attempt to find answers surrounding the kidnapping of Dover’s daughter. Gyllenhaal plays Loki as a cold, yet sympathetic officer, using facial tics, a myriad of tattoos and a dark style to bring life to the character that goes beyond the confines of the conspiracy we watch unfold.

Throughout the film, I found myself wondering more about the detective and how he came about solving every case he had ever received. Jackman’s Dover is a faithful family man turned more and more desperate and broken as the film goes on.

From silent, anguished prayer to uncontrollable rage, Jackman portrays the character with beautiful complexity, stealing scenes as we witness him crack under his grief. 

The film begins with Dover hunting with his teenage son (Dylan Minnette), reciting the Lord’s Prayer before shooting a deer. This, as well as other Christian symbolism scattered throughout the film, portrays Dover as a pious man, something that adds to our questioning of his morality and limits of his faith as he becomes more and more desperate to find his daughter. On the drive back, he lectures his son about always being prepared for the worst in life, a concept taken further by his vast collection of survival equipment later shown in his basement.

The irony is palpable when considering what’s to come — his family may be able to survive an apocalypse with their safe room, but no fancy equipment could have prepared them for the tragedy about to unfold. A wooden cross dangles forebodingly from the rear-view mirror. 

The family heads to their close friends Franklin (Terrence Howard) and Viola Davis (Nancy Birch) home for a Thanksgiving celebration, only for their respective daughters Anna and Joy to vanish without a trace after going outside to play alone. With both families distraught, Dover reports a suspicious-looking RV that had been parked nearby.

Meanwhile, Detective Loki and other officers discover the vehicle, which the driver, a creepy, frantic Alex Jones (Paul Dano) crashes in a panic and surrenders to arrest. Though the RV lacks any physical evidence of a kidnapping, there is no denying that Alex is off. It is later learned that he has the IQ of a ten-year-old, Loki telling Dover that lie detector tests don’t work if you don’t understand the questions.

Despite Dover’s insistence that he be kept in custody, without evidence of any wrongdoing, Alex is released to his widowed aunt, Holly Jones (Melissa Leo). Dover is convinced that the strange manchild is guilty of the crime and — ironically — kidnaps him at gunpoint, storing and torturing him in an abandoned building left to him by his father.

A conflicted, frailer-by-the-day Franklin Birch refuses to be a part of the bloody attempt to get Alex to confess, but continues to let Dover keep and beat the man as he is just as desperate to find his daughter. As they delve further into the mystery surrounding the childrens’ disappearance, Dover and Loki uncover a nightmarish conspiracy, muddling the case and watching it intertwine with older tragedies as time runs out. 

This film’s few cheery moments in the beginning clash fittingly with the overall bleak tone, mirroring how the protagonist’s view shifts after his daughter is kidnapped and he involves himself in the harrowing mysteries that follow. Not a second went by in which my eyes weren’t glued to the screen, the puzzle of it all becoming more and more complex and disturbing.

My heart bled with the characters as they became more and more unhinged, all four of the parents dealing with the loss in their own self-destructive ways, with Dover excising his grief so brutally that he seemed to become a different man entirely to those around him and to the audience. I found myself mourning both a physically tortured Alex and mentally tormented Dover, as each blow he threw seemed simultaneously to puncture his heart.

Don’t get me wrong, kidnapping someone  — no matter what you suspect them of  — and beating them to a pulp is by no means an acceptable thing to do, but seeing Dover reduced to doing something so against his faith, against who he had been mere days prior, genuinely moved me. 

Detective Loki takes the case to heart as the film goes on, his frustration becoming more evident as things continue to complicate and confound. We watch him unravel along with the mystery, going from a level-headed man just trying to do his job to a reckless detective less concerned with the rules and what the consequences of breaking them may bring. While he appears to be more in control of his actions in comparison to Dover in the beginning, we watch him start to crack under pressure.

Gyllenhaal actually improvised the nervous facial tics for the character, allowing the viewer a closer look into the detective’s inner workings. While a small blink-and-you-miss-it detail, it provides a unique attribute and allows the audience to better sympathize with Loki. 

While this film is incredible and something I very much recommend any thriller fan to experience, I cannot say that I enjoyed “Prisoners” per se. It sends a message not meant to be particularly enjoyed I think, but mulled over and even worried about and I loved it.

With moments both heartwarming and disturbing, this film elicits a slew of emotions from the audience. It is the sort of movie that gets you to examine yourself in a way you had maybe never thought of before and perhaps even disgust you with yourself based on what you consider.

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Emma is a UA sophomore with a double-major in Pre-Marketing and Film & Television. In her free time, she enjoys watching movies, going to the gym and spending time with her friends.

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