And we’re off! This is the start of my favourite time of the year. Summer’s ending, fall’s starting and all the Oscar hopeful movies are being rolled out from now until early January. What a time to be alive. If you read my The Avengers review, you’ll know I don’t visit the theatres in the Summer, but September through January I more than make up for it. I can’t to watch them all, with a few major ones I’m looking forward to seeing, Gravity and 12 Years A Slave the most notable. So, here’s to another year, it’s always arrives quicker than I think, and goes away just as fast, but I enjoy it all the same.
Prisoners is the lucky film to kick things all off, and I’d say a very solid entry into what will hopefully be a great season. I’ve been looking forward to this film throughout its iterations of stars and directors, combined with my love for mystery/suspence/crime/detective or whatever you want to call them films.
Hugh Jackman plays Keller Dover, a devoted Christian and family man, “prepare for the worst, hope for the best” is his motto. His basement is filled with survival necessities, and food, for whatever earthquake, hurricane or disaster event turns people mad and to fend for themselves. He knows what has to be done, and he does it, for his family, no matter what he has to do, or how it makes him look. Thanksgiving, with his wife (Maria Bello) and their neighbours down the street (Terence Howard, Viola Davis), turkey on the table, wine in the glass, football on the TV. A perfect night turned to horror, when both couples daughters, off on an adventure, disappear into thin air, no trace of them to be seen. Jake Gyllenhaal’s Detective Loki is assigned to the case, he’s solved every one of his previous cases, a 100% record, and he’s not about to let that change. A slow in the head Alex Jones (Paul Dano) is the first suspect, and remains a connector throughout the whole case, as things slowly spiral out of control. Dover gets in over his head, Loki gets in over his head. Everything hits a boiling point until all the secrets slither out, and the answers click into place, the maze gets broken through and all into plain view.
I’m dancing around things, because I like to keep my reviews relatively spoiler free, and especially with a film that is so dependent on the twists and turns of the story. It’s a well plotted out mystery story, if nothing spectacular, but director Denis Villeneuve and legendary cinematography Roger Deakins elevate it to a whole new level beyond the surface level with their ability to create suspense and mystery out of the minuate. A simple push shot into a tree creates a haunting sense of what’s to come, every little small detail is slowly simmered into what it could possibly mean for who’s behind everything, who knows the truth, and who’s lying. These detective mystery films always work better in a fall season setting, leaves rustling, a rusted out look to everything, rain, cold, uncertainty, all symbols of the case at large, obvious and easy themes to mirror, but constantly effective nonetheless. Creating a feel for this world is just as important as the twists and turns of t your narrative, and can oft elevate a sub-par story, a good and serviceable one here, where the weight doesn’t solely have to be picked up elsewhere, but noted all the same. I felt at times for the murder/mystery story to stop and stall a bit, especially with the pursuit of the kidnapper, where it seemed like they were biding time with other things until they continued on with who obviously was the prime suspect to follow. There are only really two suspects ever considered and the length it takes the film to follow these obvious leads suffers, as they delve into other, granted fascinated and rewarding, elements of the story. The climax is a bit of a let-down, and the resolution to who is behind everything leaves a bit to be desired, considering what all came before it, but it’s fine enough that everything before it doesn’t fall apart.
Where I might have some qualms with how the mystery story wraps up, what I don’t is with the performances by all the name actors. This is my favourite Hugh Jackman role, and the best work he’s ever done. I’ve never been a huge Hugh Jackman fan, not because I don’t like him or his acting, quite the opposite, but just that he hasn’t really ever picked the dramatic roles to truly test this and show off his skills. Hugh Jackman is a fantastic actor who’s been living off being Wolverine with the occasional dip into other roles that still never fully fleshed out himself as an actor. Especially here, where he plays a character type that he’s never even approached before, long been the good guy or the stoic hero, here he’s a devouted family man, yes, but a troubled man doing everything he can to see his daughter again, falling back into drinking and committing unfaithful acts because of the situation he’s been thrown into. There’s a weird, like, commentary on religion in the film, Jackman’s character being heavily religious, and the intent of the kidnapper driven by religious awakening methods, it’s never fully fleshed out and kind of hangs randomly, dipping in and out at random times, but Jackman makes it feel real within his character, where even though he’s a man of God, he commits acts for himself and his family that otherwise might seem ungodly to him, without the situation at hand.
Jake Gyllenhaal is great as well, and it got me thinking about his public perception. I can’t remember if people don’t like him, or what, but I have a hard time trying to think of a role of his that I haven’t liked. I feel like he gets a pretty boy image, but he’s a solid, solid actor and should really be considered one of the better actors of our generation, among the DiCaprio’s and Damon’s, even while he doesn’t have the filmography that they do. Brokeback Mountain, Jarhead, Zodiac, Source Code etc. etc. he’s got some great films on his resume, and I still need to see End Of Watch. As weird as it may sound, I’m a huge fan of actors’ faces, I love watching how their faces act, rather than the words they say. Anybody can spew dialogue, but matching that with facial mannerisms and creating a true character by how your face reacts and contorts really makes me feel like I know a character. See Denzel Washington in Flight for a perfect recent example. Gyllenhaal’s thing here is that he blinks, noticeably and often, it might seem small, or annoying as I’ve read some have said, but it perfectly encapsulates his on-the-edge character, living and breathing only to solve his next case, he’s high strung and focused on one thing, where everything else falls to the wayside. It’s something that adds another dimension to the character, and something I’m betting Gyllenhaal added himself.
Maria Bello is good, although she kinds of just falls into the role of the shrill wife who is psychically incapable of going anywhere but her bed because here daughter is missing. The biggest and most welcoming surprise is the work of Terrence Howard. Every since all that behind-the-scenes stuff went down with his demand of equal money to RDJr. for Iron Man 2 and his subsequent recasting, he seemed to disappear and threatened to fall out of A-list roles. I watched him in Law & Order: LA, and he wasn’t that great, and looking at his IMDB he hasn’t been in much of any notice, and that’s a shame because he’s a great, great actor. Thankfully, here in Prisoners he gets to flaunt it. He’s in the same boat as Jackman, his daughter is missing as well, he feels the same pain as him, but has more of a moral compass that forgives him from doing some of the stuff that Dover ends up doing. He provides a great counter-balance to Jackman, and someone who finds himself in over his head just as much, but has a much harder time rationalizing everything.
Prisoners is a really good film, not a great one, but it’s cinematography and acting lift it to something that could sniff some awards during the season. It doesn’t completely work as a whole, it’s mystery story leave much to be desired in the end, but its mood and performances lift it to a knowing level. I’ll come back to the film for the performances, Jackman’s best work, Gyllenhaal building up the resume, Howard back in full force, it’s an overwhelming blitzkrieg that creates this mood.