There is a masterpiece hidden in Prisoners. Unfortunately, it’s a little smothered by an overabundance of red herrings and an overly long running time.
The cast boasts four Oscar nominees, one Oscar winner, one Golden Globe nominee, and an actor who co-starred in two Best Picture nominees. The movie certainly can’t be accused of lousy casting. With the pedigree onscreen in Prisoners, hardly a scene fails to grip. Sadly, the movie also makes a great example of “too much of a good thing.”
Maria Bello and Hugh Jackman play Grace and Keller, the parents of a Pennsylvanian family who are spending this particular Thanksgiving evening with their friends (Terrence Howard and Viola Davis) and children. The evening takes a sudden and dark turn when the youngest daughters of both families go missing while walking outside.
Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal, in one of his most layered performances) takes on the case to locate the missing daughters and spends the first third of the movie investigating a creepy man in an RV (Paul Dano) who had been lurking in the neighbourhood around the time of the abduction.
The movie really starts moving when Keller, irate at the lack of progress in locating his daughter, takes a pivotal action in vigilante justice that dims Prisoners even darker. (If neither Jackman nor Gyllenhaal receive an Oscar nomination, it’ll be very surprising.) The movie gets continuously darker as it marches to its final frames, at which point the bleakness completely swallows the movie up, leaving just the closing credits.
Ultimately, what starts as a tense ride to the climax slows to a crawl as Prisoners takes countless dead-end turns following red herrings and keeps continuing past the natural end points of the movie. It’s a real shame, because with a few thorough edits, Prisoners could have been one of the best movies of the year.