Friday, March 7, 2014


Directed by Denis Villanueve.
2013. Rated R, 153 minutes.
Wayne Duvall
David Dastmalchian
Erin Gerasimovich
Kyla Drew Simmons

For Thanksgiving, the Dover family walks across the street to spend the day with their neighbors and close friends the Birch family. Each clan is made up the way we typically think of a middle-class American family. They live in nice houses in a quiet suburb, are headed by a happily married couple and have two kids. The older child is a teenager, a boy for the Dovers and a girl for the Birches. In both, the younger child is an eight year old girl. These two young ladies decide they need to go back to the Dover house to get something. Instead of asking their older siblings to escort them as instructed, they go alone. Soon, it becomes apparent the girls are missing. After unsuccessfully searching the area, the parents get the police involved. When the law doesn't seem to getting the job done, one of the dads, Keller Dover (Jackman) decides to spring into action.

Prisoners isn't as concerned with what happens to the abducted children as it is with how us moms and dads react to the situation. The couples represent two sides of a coin. For the mothers, this means Grace (Bello) is outwardly emotional. Hysterically crying herself to sleep seems to be all of which she is capable. On the other hand, Nancy Birch (Davis) is also clearly distraught, but mightily holds it together. Her defense mechanism is drawing into herself to at least maintain the appearance of composure. With the fathers, it's almost as if the roles are reversed. Franklin Birch (Howard) is the emotional one in his marriage. He is also a genuinely nice guy and doesn't have the strongest personality. He can be pushed around. Meanwhile, Keller is one hundred percent alpha male. Sure, he's out searching the woods with the rest of the community on occasion, but that's not enough for him. He is determined to get things done himself, since no one else seems able. He is also emotional, but in a much more fiery manner. Screaming at and berating whomever he happens to be addressing is typical for him. He is simply going to get answers come hell or high water.

The person most often yelled at by Keller is Detective Loki (Gyllenhaal). He's passionate about the law, no matter who is breaking it. This, and details of the case, make him keenly aware that Keller may be overstepping his boundaries. He finds himself simultaneously investigating the kidnapping and another potential crime. The latter is what the movie uses to force the viewer to consider and reconsider his or her own ethics. Would you go as far as Keller in order to find your child? Many of us like to think we would. Could we really, though, if the same opportunities present themselves? This is where Franklin and Nancy come in. they are in effect, Keller's conscience. They object, debate it amongst themselves and, eventually, come to a decision. Through them, we contemplate our own feelings on the matter. The stroke of genius in this is that they serve as our conscience, also. Due to the fact that we are only viewers, we are stuck going along with whatever the Birches decide.

While the moral dilemma is fascinating stuff, what makes Prisoners work is the tension created by suspense. Not only are we concerned with whether or not Keller is ethically and morally correct, we wonder if he's barking up the wrong tree to begin with. The movie does a very nice job keeping us guessing as it plays out. Combined with the visceral nature of our hero's actions, this draws us to the edge of our seats. Director Dennis Villanueve delivers a movie that we are simply into. Best of all, in my opinion, he doesn't leave us with a simple solution. There is still a mystery as the final credits roll. What happens, or doesn't happen, next is wide open for interpretation and, of course, discussion. It gives the movie a lingering quality. It does not do this as an obvious set up for a sequel, but a vehicle to keep us actively involved in a story that will not give us any further information.


  1. Great review. Villanueve is a master of tension and disbelief. I agree that much of the skill of this movie is that it keeps us guessing right until the end. I really enjoyed this flick.

    1. If nothing else he created an insanely tense movie.