By Leonard Maltin | Leonard Maltin September 20, 2013 at 12:02AM
Every parents’ nightmare is vividly depicted in Prisoners, the first Hollywood feature
from talented Canadian director Denis Villeneuve, who brought us the chilling Oscar
nominee Incendies. Yet there is
nothing Hollywood-like about this downbeat thriller except the stature of its
cast, led by Hugh Jackman, Terrence Howard, Viola Davis, Maria Bello, Paul
Dano, Melissa Leo, and Jake Gyllenhaal. The story begins with the sudden
disappearance of two little girls on a bleak Thanksgiving day in a working-class
Northeastern town and gets progressively grimmer with each new twist in the
One cannot fault the performances. Jackman holds nothing back as a survivalist father who, for the first time, is made to feel helpless. His belief that the local police aren’t being aggressive enough drives him to a level of desperation he’s never experienced before. Howard, his fellow dad and neighbor, is more passive but reluctantly goes along with Jackman’s extreme measures in the hope of rescuing their daughters. Gyllenhaal plays a police detective who is single-minded to the point of obsession—and who, we’re told, has never had an unsolved case. I wish his backstory was more fully explored.
Prisoners has received widespread praise in its early film festival showings, but I found it relentless—too bleak for my taste, right up through the surprising story resolution. It’s gripping and exceptionally well made, although like so many films I think it would have benefited from some pruning. I will probably be in the minority voicing this opinion, but I didn’t enjoy watching Prisoners, even though I admired the skill that went into it.