Prisoners (R)

An increasingly desperate detective (Jake Gyllenhaal) questions a suspect (David Dastmalchian) in a child abduction case in 'Prisoners.'
An increasingly desperate detective (Jake Gyllenhaal) questions a suspect (David Dastmalchian) in a child abduction case in 'Prisoners.'
Wilson Webb / WARNER BROS.

Movie Info

Rating: * * 1/2

Cast: Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Maria Bello,Terrence Howard, Viola Davis, Paul Dano, Melissa Leo, David Dastmalchian.

Director: Denis Villeneuve.

Screenwriter: Aaron Guzikowski.

Producers: Kira Davis, Broderick Johnson, Adam Kolbrenner.

A Warner Bros. release. Running time: 153 minutes. Vulgar language, violence, graphic gore, strong adult themes. Playing at area theaters.

Keller (Hugh Jackman), the protagonist of Prisoners, is a hope-for-the-best but prepare-for-the-worst type. In the basement of his home, he keeps enough supplies and weapons to survive an apocalypse. He’s a blue-collar, hands-on kind of guy, but he’s also a devoted father and husband and even a spiritual man. When he takes his son out deer hunting for the first time, he teaches the boy to quietly recite The Lord’s Prayer before pulling the trigger. Played by Jackman with great tenderness and heart, Keller is a commanding, funny person — the sort you’d love to have as a friend but would not want as an enemy.

During Thanksgiving dinner at the home of their neighbors the Bryces (Terrence Howard and Viola Davis), Keller and his wife Grace (Maria Bello) realize their 6-year-old daughter has disappareared along with the Bryces’ 7-year-old girl. A frantic search of both houses leads nowhere. The only clue was a run-down RV spotted earlier in the day parked on their block, which has since vanished.

Assigned to the case is Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal), who is eating Thanksgiving dinner by himself at a Chinese restaurant when the call comes in. The detective catches a lucky break, finding a suspicious RV whose driver immediately tries to escape but crashes instead. Driver Alex (Paul Dano), a peculiar man who sports Jeffrey Dahmer eyeglasses and an inscrutable facial expression, is brought in for questioning. But the authorities quickly determine Alex has an IQ of 10, and after scouring his camper truck for forensic evidence and finding nothing, they have no choice but to release him to the custody of his aunt (Melissa Leo). But if Alex is innocent, why did he try to flee from police when they approached his vehicle?

Prisoners marks the Hollywood debut of French-Canadian filmmaker Denis Villeneuve, best known for 2010’s Oscar-nominated Incendies. The movie comes on like gangbusters, gripping you with its immediacy and speed (if it were a book, the screenplay by Aaron Guzikowski would be a maniacal page-turner). Gyllenhaal, exuding a kind of street-smart authority he had never played before, embodies the detective’s dilemma of wanting to rush through leads to find the missing girls, but taking the time to carefully follow clues in order to not miss a critical detail.

But Keller isn’t quite as patient. His grief-stricked wife blames him for not having found his daughter (“You made me feel so safe,” Grace tells him. “You told me you could protect us from anything.”) And Keller is also convinced Alex is putting on an act and knows where his daughter is. So he takes matters into his own hands, with horrifying results.

Prisoners explores the subject of vigilante justice from a fresh perspective, making the crusaders ordinary people who have no stomach for violence or torture but must force themselves to cross moral lines for the sake of their loved ones. And the movie makes the dilemma increasingly intense by keeping the viewers guessing about Alex along with everyone else: When he takes his dog for a walk, he stops to briefly torture the animal in a shockingly sadistic manner, then continues on his walk as if nothing had happened. Is he really a diabolical killer? Or he is just, as the authorities believe, simply a severely mentally challenged person?

Shot by the great Roger Deakins, Prisoners looks fantastic, whether it’s a strangely unsettling close-up of a tree or a sensational sequence in which a character is speeding to the hospital, dangerously weaving through traffic at high speeds. The movie is filled with religious iconography and subtexts that are used for more than window dressing (a priest becomes a small but critical part of the story), and there’s a suspenseful sequence in which Loki investigates the home of a suspect that achieves David Fincher- Seven levels of creepiness. Too bad, then, that after two hours of such relentless tension, Prisoners starts revealing its secrets to progressively hokier effect. In its final 30 minutes, Prisoners leaves the realm of frightening plausibility and edges into horror-movie turf, turning what had previously felt like genuine human evil into a monster that is easy to explain away. The sudden shift feels jarring and fake — it’s incredibly frustrating — but none of it negates the phenomenal performances by Jackman and Gyllenhaal, playing two men racing toward the same finish line but using radically different methods to get there.

Read more Reeling with Rene Rodriguez stories from the Miami Herald

 <span class="cutline_leadin">‘Magic in the Moonlight’:</span> Colin Firth is a stage magician trying to disprove the abilities of an acclaimed psychic (Emma Stone).

    Magic in the Moonlight (PG-13)

    The inherent problem in cranking out a movie (sometimes two!) every year, as Woody Allen has been doing for the last 34 years, is that some of them are inevitably going to be dogs. Does someone have a gun to the filmmaker’s head that forces him to proceed with half-baked, joyless comedies such as Magic in the Moonlight instead of tossing bad ideas out and starting fresh? This is, at best, a 20-minute TV episode extended to feature length, and the stretch marks show. Boy, do they show. That’s practically all you can see, really.

 <span class="cutline_leadin">‘Guardians of the Galaxy’:</span> Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista and Chris Pratt form an unlikely team of space-jockey superheroes.

    Guardians of the Galaxy (PG-13)

    Watching the zippy, ebullient Guardians of the Galaxy, you wonder “Why can’t all comic-book movies be this much fun?”

Dad (Ethan Hawke, right) plays around with his son (Ellar Coltrane) in a scene from “Boyhood.”

    Boyhood (R)

    Contrary to most dramas, which tend to dwell on traumatic or seismic events, Richard Linklater’s Boyhood argues that life is a compilation of small, everyday moments, an accumulation of the feelings and thoughts and emotions we start to gather from the time we are children. Shot over the span of 12 years, with the cast getting together for a few days annually to shoot some scenes, the movie charts the growth of Mason (Ellar Coltrane) from the ages of 5 to 18. Mason has an older sister, Samantha (Lorelei Linklater, the director’s daughter) and he has two loving parents, Mom (Patricia Arquette) and Dad (Ethan Hawke), who are divorced and live apart. Their relationship can be contentious at times, but they both care deeply for their kids.

Miami Herald

Join the

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category