Thursday, October 3, 2013

It Came From The Cineplex: Prisoners

Prisoners was written by Aaron Guzikowski and directed by Denis Villeneuve. Mark Wahlberg was the executive producer (!). Yeah, that Mark Wahlberg. Who knew the star of The Happening produced movies?

I don't have a lot to say about this film, mainly because it's not the type of movie I usually see. I prefer sci-fi, fantasy and horror stuff. The only reason I saw it is because the summer blockbuster season is over and this was the only thing playing at the cineplex. Hearty recommendation, eh?

That said, Prisoners surprised me. It's disturbing, with a feeling of dread that seeps into you as you watch. It's similar in tone to films like The Silence Of The Lambs (but without all the cannibalism).

Huge Ackman's Keller Dover character is interesting. Someone abducts his daughter so he goes out and does the same thing to the suspect. In essence he becomes the thing he hates. Worse even, since he adds torture to the mix. There's probably a message there somewhere.

PRISON-Y SPOILERS AHEAD!

The Plot:
Keller Dover (Huge Ackman) and his family spend Thanksgiving Day at the home of their neighbors the Birches. Keller's daughter Anna and the Birch's daughter Joy go outside to play and end up missing. The families suspect the girls' disappearance has something to do with a suspicious dilapidated RV seen parked in the neighborhood.

Detective Loki (!) tracks down the RV and finds it belongs to an Alex Jones and arrests him when he tries to flee. Loki questions him extensively but can find no evidence to link him to the girls' disappearance and releases him.

Keller is convinced Jones is lying, so he abducts him and ties him up in an abandoned apartment building he owns. He begins torturing Jones for information as to the girls' whereabouts. He somehow convinces the Birches to help with the whole torture thing. They're righty horrified, but do nothing to stop him. 

Meanwhile Loki tracks down several suspects who are seemingly dead ends. However they eventually point to the real abductor.

Pros:
• The movie's densely plotted and demands your attention, which is in stark contrast to most films which barely have a plot at all. It took its old sweet time telling the story too, but in a good way, letting it unfold at a natural pace.

• Good performances, especially from Jake Gyllenhaal (really, spellcheck? That name's in your database?).

Cons:
• Detective Loki? What the hell?

Note to screenwriters: when you're writing an realistic and intense psychological drama, don't give your characters the names of Avengers villains.

• Most parents would do anything in their power to protect their children. However, I think torturing their child's suspected abductor is a line most people would be unwilling to cross. 

Keller's actions are where the film kind of jumps the rails for me. Up to that point it was very realistic and plausible, but the idea of a normal everyday person beating someone senseless, then sealing them up inside a wall and dousing them with scalding water steered the story firmly into movie land. I just don't think a real person would do something like that. At least I hope not.

• Speaking of that, Keller tortures Jones in a run-down building his father left him. When we first see the building it seems like it's in a remote location, but later it's shown to be right next door to a liquor store! Did no one going in and out of the store notice the screams coming from the supposedly empty building?

• At one point Loki discovers a dead body wearing a necklace shaped like a round maze (like the one in the "O" on the poster above). Later he enters a suspect's home he sees the walls are covered with the same maze design. He then stares at a photo of the maze necklace and slowly connects the dots. He stops just short of turning to the camera and saying, "Did you get that, audience?"

Jesus, movie! I ain't a goddamned goldfish! I can remember something for more than two minutes. I saw the necklace and the walls and figured it out. It really bugs me when movies assume I'm a drooling idiot like this.

• After Anna is rescued, Keller's wife Grace asks Detective Loki if her husband will go to jail when found. Loki says, "Probably." 

I get that he's most likely trying to be diplomatic and sensitive here in her time of crisis, but the answer would most likely be, "Absolutely, positively and without a doubt." The law kind of frowns on abduction and torture.

• Similarly, the Birches should be in hot water as well. They witnessed firsthand Keller's abduction and torture of Alex Jones. They didn't participate, but they didn't move to stop him or alert the authorities either. In the eyes of the law that makes them accomplices and just as guilty as Keller.

A complex, long and disturbing psychological thriller. I give it a B-.

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