Prisoners Review: Jake Gyllenhaal and Hugh Jackman Face Moral Dilemmas

Prisoners Movie Review

If your child was abducted, what would you be willing to do to get them back?  How far would you go?  That’s the question that we are faced with in ‘Prisoners,’ directed by Denis Villeneuve and starring Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal.  With an all-star supporting cast, and a chilling script, ‘Prisoners’ has all the pieces to be one of the year’s best thrillers.


Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) and his wife (Maria Bello) are enjoying Thanksgiving dinner with their family at the home of their nearby family friends Franklin and Nancy (Terrence Howard and Viola Davis).  During the festivities, both families young daughters disappear and a community wide search ensues.  Detective Loki (Gyllenhaal) takes over the investigation, but when he is forced to release a prime suspect (Paul Dano), due to his clear learning disability, Keller abducts the young man and takes matters into his own hands.


I’ll preface this by admitting the fact that I was extremely excited to see this film.  In my own world, it was probably my most anticipated movie of the year.  It felt like it had the potential to be the next ‘Gone Baby Gone.’  Rarely, under that much anticipation does a film actually live up to the hype.  ‘Prisoners’ was able to meet that challenge.

The first thing that sticks out about the film is the atmosphere.  The scenery, the weather, the camera work, and the background score.  They all generate a sense of dread and a cold, bleak feeling in your stomach while you watch the drama begin to unfold.  The world that these families live in is a dark and evil one, despite looking on the surface like an everyday family oriented community.  Director, Denis Villeneuve does a fantastic job generating this atmosphere.

Next is the acting.  It is honestly superb across the board.  Easily one of the finest casts assembled all year, and every member is unique and powerful, no matter how short their part in the movie is.  Not one character was wasted in my opinion.  You feel like you know exactly what makes each character tick, despite them not having much screen time to develop.  But at the same time you don’t know enough to make you unsure of just what each person is capable of, or what they may do next.  That is the most amazing thing about this movie, and what left a knot in my stomach throughout most of it.  What will he (or they) do next?

Hugh Jackman is amazing as the desperate father.  A flawless performance.  Terrence Howard is equally fantastic, and Maria Bello and Viola Davis put in wonderful supporting performances as their horrified wives.  Paul Dano is as creepy as anyone you’ll see on screen this year, but at times equally as sympathetic.  Then Jake Gyllenhaal is absolutely brilliant as the hot shot, hard-nosed detective who is torn between the missing girls and the suspicions he has about Keller’s vigilante justice.  There is one other performance of note, but I won’t mention it, and I’ll let it reveal itself to those of you who watch the film.

The story itself is an awesome cross between thriller, drama and noir mystery.  It is complex, and reveals itself slowly, letting the fantastic performances fill in the spots between revelations.  While it is certainly not a horror film, there are certainly horrific aspects to it, making it a good choice over the Halloween period.  Some people may argue that there is too much convenience here, and that there are too many pieces to consider this a credible plot, but I argue that it is the best script I’ve seen on screen all year.


When I left the cinema after watching Prisoners, I felt thrilled, drained and I had a knot in my stomach.  The film was relentless.  It let you in on secrets, piece by piece, while shocking you with brutality and draining you with its portrayal of these characters having the life and energy sucked out of them.  From beginning, during Thanksgiving dinner, to it’s thrilling climax, ‘Prisoners’ never lets up and never let me down.  My favorite film of the year, so far.

Review Overview

Movie Melt Score - 9.5


One of the most remarkable, thrilling and emotionally draining movies you're ever likely to see, Prisoners was likely the best cinematic experience of 2013. Denis Villeneuve makes his name known on US soil with a bang.

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