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‘Prisoners’ a captivating drama

By Frank Ruggiero (

Article Published: Sep. 26, 2013 | Modified: Sep. 26, 2013
‘Prisoners’ a captivating drama

From left, Jack Gyllenhaal and Hugh Jackman star in 'Prisoners.'

‘Prisoners’ is a ticket to intensity.

Taut, captivating and rife with outstanding performances, it’s a disturbing tale whose questions linger long after the credits have rolled.

These aren’t questions about “whodunit,” or “What’s with Gyllenhaal’s hair,” but rather, “What would you do, God forbid, in a situation like that?”

Facing the latter question (and maybe the second one, too) is Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman, “The Wolverine”). A husband and father of two, Keller is also a religious man, as well as a survivalist — all of which are put to the test on a particularly dreary Thanksgiving in Pennsylvania.

He and his family — wife Grace (Maria Bello, “Payback”), son Ralph (Dylan Minnette, “Let Me In”) and daughter Anna (Erin Gerasimovich, Netflix’s “Orange Is the New Black”) — are having dinner with neighbors Franklin (Terrence Howard, “Iron Man”) and Nancy Birch (Viola Davis, “The Help”), when Anna and the Birches’ daughter, Eliza (Zoe Borde, TV’s “Reed Between the Lines”), go outside to play.

When they don’t come back, their respective families begin scouring their houses and neighborhood, with the only clue to their disappearance a rusty old RV that has since driven away. But it doesn’t take long for police, including Det. Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal, “Source Code”), to find it and its driver, a mentally disturbed manchild named Alex Jones (Paul Dano, “There Will Be Blood”). However, the girls are nowhere to be found.

Jones is arrested, but it’s soon determined he lacks the mental capacity to have committed such a crime. As such, he’s soon released and returned to the custody of his aunt and caretaker (Melissa Leo, “The Fighter”).

Keller is outraged. Feeling the police have let him and his family down — despite Loki’s dogged efforts — he resolves to take matters into his own hands. Convinced that Alex is to blame, based on something he may or may not have said, Keller kidnaps his suspect and stashes him in a derelict apartment building.

He shows an unwitting Franklin what he’s done and presents his friend with some dreadful options. As Keller sees it, they can either torture the truth out of Alex, or let their daughters die. Either way, they’ll be prisoners to their choices.

The same can be said for Loki, who’s supposedly solved every case he’s been assigned. But as he continues to track down leads and additional clues, the clock is ever ticking.

And although “Prisoners” is substantially more drama than thriller, the tension is palpable. Director Denis Villeneuve (“Incendies”) and cinematographer Roger Deakins (“The Shawshank Redemption”) manage to soak every frame in dread and foreboding, making for an uneasy, but incredibly absorbing experience.

Written by Aaron Guzikowski (“Contraband”), the story occasionally veers off the beaten path toward a more conventional mystery, which feels at odds with the themes and subject matter Villeneuve and company so effectively convey. But, to Guzikowski’s credit, never does it actually go there, and perhaps it’s all intentionally so.

The casting, though, is particularly superb. Jackman delivers what’s easily one of his best performances to date, effectively expressing his character’s torment and inner conflict with an intriguing balance of subtlety and menace. Bello, too, delivers a haunting performance, as her character copes with the horrific situation at hand, while Gyllenhaal brings depth and history to a character whose background is never explored.

Clocking in at 153 minutes, it’s an exceptionally intense time at the movies — and one that won’t have viewers checking their watch, either. Put simply, “Prisoners” gives new meaning to the term, “captive audience.”

“Prisoners,” rated R for disturbing violent content, including torture, and language throughout, is playing at Regal Cinema 7 in Boone. For show times, visit

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