Starring Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal in, word has it, career best performances, "Prisoners," the English language debut of Oscar nommed "Incendies" director Denis Villeneuve, floored audiences upon its Telluride debut. Like Clint Eastwood's "Mystic River" (2003) -- says Variety scribe Scott Foundas in his superlative review -- this 2 1/2 hour thriller dwells in big themes and a sprawling cast. Uniformly superb costars include Paul Dano, Maria Bello, Viola Davis, Terrence Howard and Melissa Leo, in an evidently not-so-showy performance that's garnering acclaim. But will audiences take to this dark and disturbing crime story when it hits theaters September 20 via Warner Bros.?
A first-rate ensemble procedural with weighty themes to spare, Quebecois director Denis Villeneuve's tense kidnapping drama "Prisoners" revolves around a familiar set of genre ingredients but lays them out with expert precision. Similar to Villeneuve's Oscar-nominated "Incendies," the director's first entirely English language feature involves a high stakes investigation and a generation-sprawling mystery only made fully clear in its closing scenes, but the comparisons stop there.
With each successive revelation, Guzikowski's brilliant script satisfies the necessary machinations while always flowing effortlessly from his vivid, multi-dimensional characters. That delicate balance extends to Villeneuve's direction, which maintains a vise-like grip on the viewer without ever resorting to cheap shock effects or compromising the integrity of the human drama. Yet this is also a film that breathes, that knows it has the audience in its palm and can take time out for the kind of incidental, character-deepening scenes that usually end up on the cutting-room floor.
Jackman roars with a Wolverine-like rage and intensity in frustration at the ineffectuality of the police working his daughter’s case, but there’s an authentic, emotionally connected and anguished howl to his pain that he could never access with Logan. Like “Incendies” before it, “Prisoners” is emotionally draining as the family, the detectives and everyone involved is put through the wringer, but it’s an all-consuming ride that’s ultimately compelling, if not slightly exhausting.
As the plot twists multiply and tension mounts, the film reaches a climax that is satisfying without being predictable. Special praise should go to the sound engineer for a shrewd touch in the very last scene that brings the story to an absolutely perfect conclusion. "Prisoners" can at times be a hard film to watch, but thanks to all the talent involved, it’s even harder to shake off.
The ensemble is great across the board but Hugh Jackman gives what honestly might be his best performance as one of the desperate fathers willing to do whatever it takes to find his daughter. Jake Gyllenhaal is also perfectly utilized, carving out a law enforcement character caught between the robotics of the job and the emotion of the case. And also worth noting is Terrence Howard as the other father; he doesn't get a whole lot to do here, but he makes it all count and, along with his work in "Lee Daniels' The Butler," seems to be back on the right track.