By Sandra Kraisirideja
There are two sure signs that a suspenseful movie is working: the first is an eery silence in the theater, where it seems like nobody is even breathing and two, nobody has gotten up to use the bathroom.
These were the conditions during a recent press screening of “Prisoners,” at the ArcLight in La Jolla. A movie like “Prisoners” is when it pays to use an app like “Run Pee,” which tells viewers when it is safe to leave the theater for a quick bathroom break. Trust me, after “Prisoners” starts its very hard to figure out when a break in the suspense will occur.
Directed by French Canadian Denis Villeneuve, whose “Incendies” was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film in 2011, “Prisoners” tells the story of two families whose daughters are abducted on Thanksgiving Day.
The dark thriller stars Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Paul Dano, Terrence Howard, Maria Bello, and Viola Davis. The talented cast are all great with Jackman especially giving a measured performance that piggybacks nicely with his anguished turn as Jean Valjean in “Les Miserables.”
The marketing language of the film seems to suggest this is a vigilante movie in the vain of “Taken” or “Ransom,” but the tone of the movie is much more subdued. Jackman does take matters into his own hands but he’s not out there killing multiple people like a one-man, unstoppable army.
Keller Dover (Jackman) is a protective and caring father and when his daughter, along with a family friend, go missing on Thanksgiving Day, he takes it upon himself to find out what he can from Alex Jones (Dano) the one lone suspect in police custody, When Detective Loki (Gyllenhaal) is forced to release Jones when there isn’t enough evidence to support his arrest, Dover imprisons Jones and uses various means of torture to get the truth out of him. In the meantime, Loki continues his search for the girls through old-fashioned detective work and eventually the efforts of both men leads to the same conclusion.
For a thriller, “Prisoners” provokes a lot of questions about violence as a means-to-an-end. Some viewers may argue about whether Dover’s actions are necessary or if he should have waited There are certainly connections between Loki’s investigation and Dover’s interrogation of Jones and things happen because of Dover’s action where it could be argued it was necessary. However, there is also something to be said for Loki’s persistence and expertise, which does prove to be successful as well.
It should be noted that multiple-Oscar nominee Roger Deakins, who is a frequent collaborator with the Coen Brothers, served as cinematographer on “Prisoners.” Deakins’ ability to capture the dreariness of winter in Pennsylvania strengthens the movie’s dark and foreboding tone. The sun is rarely seen; it seems to be raining or snowing more often than not and the colors are dampened or washed out. Art Director Paul D. Kelly and Costume Designer Renee Apri nail the middle class existence of the characters in the modest nature of their clothes and homes.
One thing about the movie, which is not a criticism but more of an observation regards Davis and Bello. Both women are incredibly talented actresses but in “Prisoners” they aren’t given very much to do. Given how well the movie came out, Villeneuve’s decision to use them sparingly was probably wise.
“Prisoners” opens nationwide on Friday, Sept. 20.