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Jackman, Gyllenhaal clash in ‘Prisoners’

By Andrew Fishman / Staff Writer

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“Prisoners”

Starring: Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal

Directed by: Denis Villeneuve

Grade: A- 

On a misty day, driving back from a hunting trip with his son, Keller Dover preaches, “Do you know what the best advice your granddad ever gave me was? Be ready. Always be ready.”

Dover’s words of advice are put to the test when his daughter and his neighbors’ daughter mysteriously disappear on Thanksgiving night. The lead suspect is a mentally disabled man, Alex Jones (Paul Dano), who was seen driving an RV parked in the Dover’s neighborhood the night of the disappearances.

While the state police search for the girls, Detective Loki (Gyllenhaal) does everything in his power to comfort the crippled families and assures them that he will find their daughters. After questioning the disabled Jones, no evidence is found that can convict him of the abduction, leading to his release. Appalled and disgusted, Keller Dover (Jackman) decides to take matters into his own hands.

In this hauntingly realistic suspense thriller, Villeneuve, better known for his indie foreign films (most famously “Incendies”, for which he received a 2011 Academy Award nomination), keeps the audience captivated in a chilling, heart-pounding story that honestly could take place in any small suburban town. The realism in the film certainly adds to the interest level and relatability that a lot of suspense crime dramas lack.

The film deals with a horror that every parent prays they will never have to experience. Amazing performances by Jackman, Terrence Howard (Dover’s neighbor) and their wives — played by Maria Bello and Viola Davis — perfectly display the emotions of grief-stricken parents. The helplessness of the characters is very real, allowing the audience to empathize with them throughout the film.

The majority of the plot hinges on Dover’s search for his daughter. Slightly unstable after her disappearance, Dover tries to blame both Detective Loki and Jones for why his daughter has yet to be found. For that reason, he feels he must personally do whatever it takes to find her, even if his actions are a bit extreme. 

Villeneuve uses various cinematic strategies to keep the audience in suspense throughout the film. One that is essential, though which might go unnoticed, is the film’s use of silence. Many of the scenes have no soundtrack to back the actions of the moment, which is a brave tactic that is often overlooked, even when it is successful. The lack of outside noise creates a slightly uncomfortable environment for the viewer — perfect for a horror film. Additionally, Villeneuve implements the use of flashlights — the quintessential lighting for any good horror story — in a few key scenes to dial up the suspense. 

Although other viewers have criticized the length of the film, I did not feel that the length was an issue. Every scene is necessary for building up to an ending that will not only satisfy the audience, but will also leave it up to them to decide how it truly ends.

The performances of Jackman and Gyllenhaal make for an incredible movie-going experience. The juxtaposition of their two characters — Keller, a firmly religious, family-first father, and Loki, a tattoo-covered loner detective eating by himself on Thanksgiving — create a riveting outcome.

A frequently repeated quote in the film that embodies its major themes and plot is: “Pray for the best, expect the worst.” Though revealing any more would spoil the plot, it suffices to say that anyone who sees this film will not regret it. Now when watching the Oscars next March, viewers will know what everyone is buzzing about. Those who do attend should take Keller’s words to heart: “Be ready” for a gripping cinematic experience.

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Jackman, Gyllenhaal clash in ‘Prisoners’