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Mario Bautista, has been with the entertainment industry for more than 4 decades. He writes regular columns for People's Journal and Malaya.

Sep 26, 2013

Prisoners Review: Well Acted Mystery Thriller With An Ending That's Bound To Be Talked About

AFTER BEING nominated as best actor as Jean Valjean in “Les Miz”, looks like Wolverine will be up for another nomination for his tour de force portrayal of a father searching for his kidnapped 6-year old daughter in “Prisoners”, a mystery-thriller that’s bound to be talked about.

Set in Pennsylvania, Hugh Jackman plays Keller, married to Grace (Maria Bello) and doting dad to their two kids, especially to 6-year old daughter, Anna (Erin Grasimovich). They’re celebrating Thanksgiving at the home of their neighbour, the Franklins (Terrence Howard and Viola Davis), who have their own daughter, Joy (Kyla Simmons). The two girls go outside after dinner. They never return.

The parents call the police and Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) is assigned to handle their case. The first suspect is Alex (Paul Dano, who we best remember for “Ruby Sparks”), but he turns out to have an IQ of 10 and can’t commit such a crime. The police release him, but Keller is convinced that he knows something when he heard Alex whispered 'They only started crying when I left them.' So Keller kidnaps him, takes him to an abandoned building and tortures him to get information.

This film is not for dumb viewers who’s just after easy entertainment. It’ll make you think as the story is full of seemingly unanswered questions so it’s up to you to connect the dots. You meet other characters like Alex’ old aunt (Melissa Leo), an alcoholic priest (Len Cariou) and a mysterious figure at a candlelight vigil who frequently buys children’s clothes. The script by Aaron Gruzikowski drops clues that can be in the drawing of mazes, in snakes, while pondering about faith and God. Yes, the film even starts with a recitation of the Lord’s Prayer and a spiritual song.

If you’re sharp, everything might just fall neatly into place by the time the film reaches its climax. But if you’re a lazy viewer, you’ll just be disturbed and disconcerted, especially by the “bitin” ending where we’re not sure what happens to a major character. It’s certainly not a crowd pleaser as those who prefer conclusive closures will surely not feel satisfied.

The film runs for 2 hours and 30 minutes but French Canadian director Dennis Villeneuve (this is his first film in Hollywood) is smart enough to orchestrate a movie that keeps you guessing along without being manipulative. It’s not a feel good viewing experience, what with the subject focusing on child kidnapping, but those looking for mature viewing fare will surely enjoy it.

The acting is quite exceptional. Hugh Jackman shows a lot of depth and intensity in his role as the irate father so helpless in his rage that he takes the law into his own hands. He’s really so talented as he can sing, dance, do action and now, a very dark drama where he can’t even defend himself against a female opponent. Jake Gyllenhaal gives a low key but very focused portrayal as the overworked detective.

The rest of the cast give solid supporting work. Roger Deakins’ cinematography (“Skyfall”) gives a striking look that seems to be shot in the mist, perfect for the very dark whodunit narrative which reminds us of such Oscar winners as “Mystic River” and “Silence of the Lambs”, both also about murder and kidnapping. Other films in the same league of “Prisoners” in portraying the evil that men are capable of doing are “Lovely Bones”, “Zodiac” and “Seven”.