Prisoners is a brutally nihilistic and bleak film. It is also exceptionally effective. There is palpable tension throughout which is enhanced by realistic performances, a sparse score, and gripping imagery. This is every parent’s worst nightmare brought to film.
The film stars Hugh Jackman, Maria Bello, Viola Davis, and Terrance Howard as two couples getting together to celebrate Thanksgiving with their families. They live close to each other in a typical suburban subdivision and appear to have been friends for many years. As the evening goes on the parents realize that the youngest daughters of each family have gone missing. Terror mounts as they search the neighborhood and the police are called to begin an investigation, with Jake Gyllenhaal being the officer assigned the case. The plot is fairly straightforward and follows the attempts of both Gyllenhaal and Jackman as they each conduct their own brand of search. Gyllenhaal is effective as the detective in charge and his police work seems authentic. Jackman leads the cast with a gripping portrayal of a man desperate to hold on to whatever strings he can find.
Prisoners shows us what ramifications can occur when decisions are made during times of extreme trauma. The film centers on Jackman’s character and his search for his daughter. Jackman brings the emotional despair to his eyes and the lengths he will go to find his daughter are never in question. The supporting cast is also incredible as they weave in and out of Jackman’s decisions. Prisoners is both a literal and metaphorical title. Just as the kidnapped girls are literal prisoners the choices made by those in the search have the ability to confine everyone. The film is careful to accentuate the slow moments in the investigation where a decision alters everyone’s fates. Life is a series of choices and sometimes those choices can test our humanity.
Every aspect of this film seems authentic. The homes of each family are suitable for middle class families and every detail of their lives fits within those confines down to the cars they drive. Nothing is out of place. Everything is brilliantly shot by the legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins. Deakins brings an elegance to every shot and washes the film’s despair down with the rain. Much of the suspense of the film is brought on by the very realness of everything. From the wardrobe to each character’s actions every frame mirrors reality. This is what makes Prisoners so gut wrenching to watch.
Prisoners is a tense and wildly dark thriller that also doubles as a character study of a desperate man. There is a pervading sense of crippling depression throughout as the days go on and solid leads crumble. The film is at it’s most effective when it forces the audience to look inward and decide how far is too far when your child’s life is at stake. The film is an emotional horror story and those who are easily swayed should be prepared for the onslaught of hopelessness that awaits.
J.J. Abrams has created a Star Trek movie that is a lightsaber away from being a Star Wars movie. It has me conflicted in that I like it very much, but I’m not sure if I’m supposed to. I enjoyed watching it while simultaneously being disappointed. The cast is brilliant all around and the addition of Benedict Cumberbatch will always be welcome. The frenetic action is well paced and the set pieces move along smoothly. The plot holds up if you don’t think about it for longer than it’s onscreen. Into Darkness has many things going for it, but the biggest drawback is its insistence on playing it safe.
Into Darkness begins with Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) and Dr. Spock (Zachary Quinto) leading the crew of the USS Enterprise on a mission in typical buddy cop fashion. As a result of Kirk’s impetuousness and willingness to break the rules mixed with Spock’s logic and adherence of said rules Kirk has lost the command of his ship. An attack is made against the Federation by John Harrison (Cumberbatch) and in a stunning display of good luck Kirk regains command of his ship with an order to follow Harrison to the Klingon homeworld and eliminate him. Stunning displays of good luck follow Kirk around as if they were his superpower. Thus ends the actual plot of Into Darkness. The movie is essentially a very long chase/revenge film with sci-fi elements.
It is here that I must confess that Star Trek has never been my series. I was always a Star Wars fan. My Trek viewing was hit and miss throughout. I’ve seen various episodes of the original series and The Next Generation. I’ve never seen any of the later series. I saw some of the movies. I weirdly recall liking the one about whales when I was a child. I have not, however, seen The Wrath of Khan to which Into Darkness is unabashedly homaging (remaking?). I understand there to be many elements of that film that are mirrored in this one, but I am not the target audience for those references. I can only take this film at face value, but I fully understand that there may be a deeper level of satisfaction for someone that gets the references throughout.
J.J. Abrams continues to inspire wonders with his visual flair. His vision is impeccable. This Star Trek universe feels lived in and every action set piece feels both grandiose and realistic. Visually the film is stunning. The plot is where things start to go wrong. Character’s decisions make very little sense and bad decisions not only go unpunished but sometimes rewarded. The actual plot arc is paper thin as it truly is a straightforward chase film. The disappointment for me came from the lack of anything truly original. While I may not have been a huge Trek fan throughout the years I have always appreciated the originality of the series. It broke new ground and explored strange ideas. Abrams’ version is a paint-by-numbers summer blockbuster affair. The moment the story is introduced you know how it will end. It was a fun ride to take, but ultimately forgettable.