Generally, we get one superbly cerebral movie per decade. We got lucky in the ’90s with Silence of the Lambs and Se7en, and in the ’00s we got Untraceable. Now 2013 brings us Prisoners, a movie that is sure to claim the spot for psychological thriller of the decade.
Directed by Denis Villeneuve and starring Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal at the fore of an adept cast of actors, Prisoners is unrelenting in its suspense and inventive in its narrative. A combination of clever writing and stirring performances, Prisoners depicts the nightmarish aftermath two sets of parents must endure when their children are snatched from under their noses. It is not the most unique of scenarios, but the way the film operates within this trope is exemplary.
Of particular note is Hugh Jackman’s contribution as Keller Dover, distressed father and the film’s primary focus. Critics across the board are lauding him for his acting, calling his role in Prisoners his best performance yet and, even with Jean Valjean and Wolverine still firmly gripping my heartstrings, I’d be hard-pressed to disagree. The emotional authenticity Jackman channels as the unraveling patriarch is nothing short of staggering.
This is a quality common among the film’s cast. Jake Gyllenhaal, often the object of audience scorn for one peeve or another, has truly grown into his career. His role as the coolheaded Detective Loki is evidence of this. As the character walks the razor-thin line between law and vigilantism, between right and wrong, the subtlety with which Gyllenhaal manifests Loki’s undulating allegiances is remarkable. If his quality as an actor can’t be found in Prisoners, he simply will never be able to win you over.
The other thing that makes Prisoners such a generational landmark is its grip on atmosphere and realism. Through the film’s broodingly composed duration, there is a high attention to detail that makes for a very grounded experience. It does not take any effort to believe the story Prisoners tells. It is neither mundane or over-the-top. The decisions its characters make are believable ones. The parents react to the same trauma in different ways, with none of their reactions being outrageous or disillusioning, but wholly in keeping with the capabilities of common people. This only serves to strengthen the lengths undertaken by the film’s more desperate leads, making for a movie that really does keep you on the edge of your seat until the credits start rolling.
What more can be said? Prisoners is an intricate puzzle of a thriller that ensures repeated viewings. It is littered with hints as to what is going on, but keeps you guessing and reevaluating things long past its end. A fun, smart movie seething with suspense and passion, worthy of compare to the genre’s bygone triumphs.