WARNING: MINOR SPOILERS
Throughout Hugh Jackman’s career, the actor has excelled at portraying noble men struggling with dark demons from Wolverine to Jean Valjean. In his new film ‘Prisoners‘, he continues this trend playing a desperate father willing to go to any lengths to find his kidnapped daughter.
The film is a tense and gripping thriller that avoids the traditional stereotypes of the genre led by a cast who deliver some of the best performances in their careers. Jackman plays Keller Dover, a carpenter who lives in the Philly suburbs with his wife and two kids. On Thanksgiving, the family heads over to their neighbors home (Terence Howard & Viola Davis relegated to strong supporting roles) to celebrate the holiday. Both of the young daughters venture outside to play but never to return home. After Dover’s son tells his concerned parents he saw a suspicious RV, Dover and the rest of the adults frantically rush out to search for them.
This incident sets off a series of events that leads to the discovery of the RV and Paul Dano’s incredibly unsettling character Alex. As basic as this set-up sounds, this one of those rare films where you must know very little heading into the theater. Ignore the trailers since they do no justice for this flick.
Helmed by Denis Villenevue, the director artfully ratchets up the twists and turns to such an extent that audiences will be clinging on to their seats for dear life as they watch this frantic search unfold. The performances to note Jackman’s and Gyllenhall’s. Prisoners did occasionally border on the philosophical heavily analyzing Jackman’s downward moral spiral as he brutally tortures Alex for information. However, Hugh delivers a brilliant performance striking a tone with the audience as his anger and desperation begin inhibiting his judgement. Gyllenhall comes away from the awesome End of Watch portraying another conflicted cop thrust into a frustrating case. Incorporating subtleties like a nervous tic, the actor establishes depth for a character that could have just been one-note. Watching Dover and the detective clash with each other on screen is another highlight. The rest of the supporting cast do well but these two leads tend to overshadow them as the story develops.
Ultimately, this is worth the price of admission. Initial reviews of the movie when it premiered at the Telluride and Toronto film festival considered this an early oscar contender. While the writing, directing and acting are strong I wouldn’t go that far. It won’t be easy to shake off but despite that, it will be the best movie you’ll see this weekend. You’ve been warned.
Prisoners opens nationwide September 20th.