Movie review: Powerful “Prisoners” is a cinematic page-turner

By Columbus Alive
From the September 19, 2013 edition

While it is (refreshingly) not based on a book, the crime thriller “Prisoners” is an absolute page-turner.

It functions as a searing family drama and an exploration of a disturbing side of human nature. It also manages to craft a roller coaster of a whodunit that thrills and shocks around nearly every bend, even if the ride drifts on a bit too long for its own good.

Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) is a working-class dad in a working-class town. His world is turned upside-down on Thanksgiving when his young daughter and a neighbor go missing.

The immediate suspect is creepy neighbor Alex Jones (Paul Dano), a man with the mental capacity of a child who was driving an RV that the girls were playing near prior to their disappearance. Hard-nosed Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) leads a dramatic arrest and fierce interrogation. But a forensic team finds no physical evidence on the RV, so the suspect is released after 48 hours.

The release drives the grieving Keller over the edge. Convinced Jones knows the whereabouts of the girls, Keller abducts Jones at gunpoint, taking him to an abandoned apartment building where he methodically tortures him for information.

Director Denis Villeneuve — working from a script by newcomer Aaron Guzikowski — tosses his cast in the middle of the mystery with a tidy setup. And it’s good that he wastes no time, as there’s a lot to sift through with a series of dead ends (or are they?) and red herrings (or are they?).

Jackman is raw and powerful as a man experiencing every parent’s worst nightmare and the depths to which that takes him. Gyllenhaal’s obsessed detective is like the midpoint between his characters in “Zodiac” and “Donnie Darko.” And that’s a compliment.

The only thing keeping “Prisoners” from top-notch status is a run time that feels a little long, the result of some false resolution that leads to essentially a fourth act (albeit a very strong one).