Quebec director Denis Villeneuve’s thriller Prisoners premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival and was also a highlight of the Halifax Film Festival last week.
It’s Thanksgiving when what starts out like a regular day in the lives of two families, the Dover’s and the Birch’s, ends in possible tragedy as their 6-year-old daughters (Erin Gerasimovich, Kyla Drew Simmons) go missing from their lower-middle-class, rural neighbourhood.
Hugh Jackman stars as Keller Dover, the father of one of the missing girls, whose own life has been facing growing instability with an unreliable job and uncertain future. After being informed by his son Ralph (Dylan Minnette) and Eliza Birch (Zoe Borde) that their siblings were playing on a parked RV, it becomes the only lead to finding the missing girls.
Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) leads the search, which takes them to the RV parked next to a gas station. After crashing into the trees, the officers apprehend its driver, Alex Jones (Paul Dano) who is found to have the IQ of a 10-year-old with little speech.
He is soon cleared of any involvement and released but Dover fixates on him as the only possible option behind the abduction of the girls and soon takes matters into his own hands.
Prisoners is striking because of its realistic presentation. Most films of this nature are about an upper-class family in a major city with endless resources and lots of action, which can make them slightly harder to relate to. This film draws on the setting as an important aspect of the plot and in turn, draws us into the characters.
We can feel Keller’s frustration that the authorities aren’t doing enough, or the right things, to find his daughter. We can feel Franklin Birch’s (Terrence Howard) helplessness of the situation. We can feel Alex Jones’ confusion at being accused of the kidnapping. And Detective Loki’s abilities near their limits adding to growing irritation as more time passes and the unlikelihood we’ll be watching a happy ending.
As much as Prisoners is about the search to find the two young girls, it’s also about how different people deal with the same situation. It takes faith and fate and plays with them, depending on perspective. It does it so finely that, despite the film’s two-and-a-half hour duration, nothing drags and we’re in it to the end, bitter or sweet.
Prisoners captures and displays many emotions. It’s enthralling and you find yourself flipping on how you should be feeling more than once. It’s a strong film and one that makes you second guess everyone’s true character – maybe even your own.