Saturday, October 5, 2013

#022 Movie Review: Prisoners

It is imperative to temper some expectations because I know that I went into my viewing of Prisoners with very different expectations than with what I left the theatre.  If you were hoping for Se7en or Silence of the Lambs like I was, you may be a bit disappointed because the violence and physical suspense in this movie do not own the movie.  They are simply tools to tell the tale.

The two and half hour story begins with the disappearance of two pre-teen girls from a dual family Thanksgiving dinner in a small suburban neighborhood.  It is the rural town environment of the movie that allows the edge-of-your-seat nuances of this thriller to be magnified.  The detective in charge of the case (played by Jake Gyllenhaal - his best performance in some time) seems to be the only detective in this small town and works the entire case without a partner.  It is because of the lack of physical evidence and lack of support for Gyllenhaal's character that you are left with a hopelessness and despair early on in the movie.

Where Se7en and Silence of the Lambs could be deemed psychological thrillers, Prisoners is much more of a sociological thriller.  No one's face is peeled off or has their liver eaten, and there are very few moments where you want to be somewhere besides that theatre out of pure fear.   Writer Aaron Guzikowski and Director Denis Villeneuve do an amazing, if not unique job of capturing the true emotions of what a parent would experience after the disappearance of a child.  Whether it was the uncontrolled animalistic anger of Hugh Jackman (I couldn't help but hope for the Wolverine blades to come out at times) or the paralyzing despondency of Terrence Howard (one member of the audience yelled out "you big pu**y" towards his character at one point), you cannot help but experience their despair right along with them in whatever way it would materialize in you. 

Nevertheless, it wasn't the thrill that drew me to this movie.  In just watching the trailers, I was quickly impressed with the casting director's choices.  Whether it was Hugh Jackman's struggle with his faith or Terrence Howard's lack of courage, just about every major actor was cast against type.  The characterizations were refreshing because you knew each of these well-established and accomplished actors were truly working and maybe, just maybe, rewarding the audience with some of their best work yet.

As good as the big stars (Jackman, Howard, Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis, and Mario Bello) were throughout, the movie was stolen by the minor, but dominant parts played by Melissa Leo and Paul Dano.  Leo (The Fighter) and Dano (There Will Be Blood) demonstrate their phenomenal skill at the highest levels with a minimalist approach.  Both actors are masters of transformation.  Both, from movie to movie, quickly evaporate into the environment of the story as if they were born into the role.  In Prisoners, they each take their genuine skill of playing the chameleon to a new level.  Brilliant does not express how much their ability to transform and shock the audience with the removal of their invisibility cloak at the most critical point of the movie.  In the end, you are left in wonder realizing they had been right in front of you the entire time.

Although my overall impression of the movie is a step below the classics mentioned above, Prisoners did not leave me wanting.  In an era where I am often left disappointed when the credits roll, I left my seat knowing I had just been apart of a unique experience.  The ending may leave some of you disappointed, but it's only because the director wanted all of us to leave formulating our own opinion instead of being told what to think.  Overall, I give Prisoners 3 out of 4 dribbles and encourage everyone to experience it for themselves.

Next Friday:  Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2

Matt Rogers
Twitter:  @madcoachdiary