This line from the film is actually a good advice if you are planning on watching it.
The worst thing about Prisoners is not that it wastes the time of talented cast and crew. It's that it's a waste of your time if you decide to watch it. This badly written schlock is 153 minutes long and if you took out all the moronic red herrings that doesn't fool you for a second or failed attempts at making you care about characters, this would be an one hour long episode of one of those stupid cop shows, only with shockingly acclaimed cast for such material.
Keller Dover's (Hugh Jackman, in a performance almost as fake and unconvincing as his turn in Scoop) six-year-old
daughter, Anna, is missing, together with her young friend, Joy, and as
minutes turn to hours, panic sets in. The only lead is a dilapidated RV
that had earlier been parked on their street. Heading the investigation, detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal, who should get some sort of reward for actually managing to create a great performance here) arrests its driver, Alex Jones (perpetually frightened Paul Dano), but a lack of evidence
forces his release. As the police pursue multiple leads and pressure
mounts, knowing his child's life is at stake the frantic Dover decides
he has no choice but to take matters into his own hands.
The biggest problem with Prisoners is its script. It's so bad that I couldn't believe what I was seeing on the screen. It commits every sin imaginable - not only is it predictable but the writer threw so much stuff in here that it's actually confusing. There is no emotional core as we never really have a chance to feel for anyone here (the emotional scenes ring hallow, apart from one moment involving the great Viola Davis and bloody hood) and all those false leads, red herrings and side plots create huge, uninteresting mess.
Everything is in here - laughably heavy religious symbolism, snakes (in air proof boxes!), mazes, crazy old ladies, crazy young guys, conveniently placed weird necklaces, priests, basements, survival kits, twitches, hammers, alcoholism, pill popping, whistles, ambiguous ending thrown in for absolutely no reason at all. In their attempts to make smart, profound thriller the people responsible for Prisoners managed to make the biggest attention Oscar bait whore of the year so far.
This is the movie with a scene where a person chokes a dog. For two reasons - cheap shock factor and duping the audience. Oh, how it back fired. For me to feel someone is guilty and assume he is definitely the bad guy, I would have to be in the dark as to who the villain is. And I guessed who the kidnapper is the moment we saw that person (more on that later). For me to care about a character I'd have to care about the story. I cannot care about the story that is both filled with so many coincidences it borders on fairytale and is overbearing and dull at the same time. Also - the moment you use a scene like this you better have better reason for it than just throwing a red herring at the audience. Appalling.
The reason as to why I know who the big bad is was the casting. You hire Academy Award winning actress like Melissa Leo. She shows up in one scene. Then she shows up again for 10 seconds. Then she disappears for most of the movie. Gee, since she is a well known acclaimed actress she needs to show up again. Oh, wait. She's the killer. But let's just throw in a lot of potential suspects in case someone cracked that super difficult code.
And that in the nutshell is a problem here - the film is trying so hard to be surprising, to conceal who kidnapped the girls, that it forgets to be believable and gripping. Instead of focusing on the characters and their actions more and more conveniently placed leads appear in front of detective Loki - a priest who he found via sex offender registry (of course) has a dead body in his basement that just happens to be of a guy who said he killed kids. He said it to the priest during his CONFESSION. That actually happens in this movie. A guy confessed and a priest killed him and detective in charge of investigation finds him and hey, wait! The killed guy is actually a husband of Melissa Leo's character! Oh my God! How small and sick is this town?!
Prisoners also has trouble with getting its shit together when it comes to what the film is actually about. I guess the title is fitting as the movie is trying to make a point everyone is a prisoner of something. And? So? Any conclusions? No, the film has nothing to say about it. But what is it also about? Grief? Yes, there are several mandatory scenes of weeping parents. Torturing the wrong guy? Well, Alex wasn't technically the wrong guy as he knew where the girls were. Just because he has a mind of a child doesn't change the fact he had the knowledge Keller thought he had. So even something as easy as showing "innocent" people can end up being tortured by "good" people and it's so wrong doesn't completely work in this movie.
The moment we got to the killer's motivation for what she was doing I laughed out loud. This was one of the weakest and most ridiculous reasons for killing people I've heard of in movies. Just how much problem with religion does the person responsible for this script (apparently the writer only wrote 2 other films, I'm not surprised and I'm very relieved) have?
I'm usually perfectly fine when I see a stupid movie but when that movie was advertised as smart thriller and some people actually compared it to the all time greats like Se7en and The Silence of the Lambs (the only thing worse than watching Prisoners was seeing those comparisons, you should have your movie fan cards revoked) I expect a little more than scene after scene that makes me roll my eyes and whisper 'Are you serious?'.
I thought the film would have been much better without Jackman and Bello's character. Jackman is running around, yelling, hitting wall with a hammer, destroying sinks, in his laughable attempts to create meaty performance and Bello is wasted here. What I thought would make for a much better movie was making Terrence Howard and Viola Davis's characters the main heroes of the story. They played ordinary couple, the parents of the other girl that was kidnapped. To see those gentle people snap and actually torture Alex would be far more effective than seeing Jackman's Keller do all of this.
There is only a handful of things that worked in the movie - the film even if it was insanely dull has an amazing atmosphere mostly thanks to great score and obviously wonderful cinematography from the great Roger Deakins. There are many fantastic sequences, including the scene where Davis's character is presented with what Keller did and exquisitely shot scene where Loki drives one of the girls to the hospital.
The cast, apart from miscast Leo and useless Jackman, brought in solid performance but only Davis and Gyllehaal were memorable. Davis was the only one who brought some real emotions and vulnerability to the movie and Gyllenhaal seemed to be the only one who correctly didn't take this movie too seriously.
The fact that this was made by Denis Villeneuve, who directed masterful
Incendies only makes things worse. His previous film was a gripping,
harrowing, powerful tale. Prisoners is neither of those things. And worst of all - it's too afraid to make definitive statements, never leaving the cowardly limbo of showing the problem and refusing to give opinion about it.
Prisoners (2013, 153 min)
Plot: 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?
Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis