Rating: I cannot remember seeing a film that is so brutally condemnable as Prisoners. Sergio Leone once directed Clint Eastwood in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966), and there is nothing remotely good or bad about this film.
There is simply no other way to say this, so let me just cut to the heart of my review of Prisoners. I hated it from beginning to end. Promoted as a heartbreaking drama concerning the abduction of two young girls at a neighborhood Thanksgiving party, it morphs into a disgusting display of violence inflicted on an innocent suspect.
If you’ve seen the previews, you know that the Dover family are visiting their friends, the Birches on Thanksgiving. Great actors portray all of the characters, which makes the movie all the more disappointing. Hugh Jackman and Maria Bello appear as Keller and Grace Dover, while Terrance Howard and Viola Davis are Franklin and Nancy Birch, their holiday hosts.
You know from the opening scene that something is profoundly unsettling about Jackman’s character, and I will leave it for you to discover the reason. However, chaos interrupts the holiday celebration when the two young daughters of the Dovers and the Birches disappear while playing in the front yard.
Heartbreak follows, as the police focus on a beat-up RV that had been parked in the neighborhood. It was subsequently found to contain a mentally damaged young man named Alex Jones, played credibly by the underrated Paul Dano. Forced to release Mr. Dano from custody when he is not connected to the crime, not to mention the fact that he has the mental ability of a 10-year old boy, Keller Dover goes berserk.
The movie, which lasts an incredible 2½ hours, is filled with little more than Jackman screaming at anyone and everyone, “Find my daughter.” The brutal focus of his growing hostility is the lead officer on the case, Detective Loki, played by a bored and laconic Jake Gyllenhaal. With Ms. Bello playing a mother confined to bed with prescription drugs for the remainder of the film, nearly every scene focuses on Jackman’s annoying outbursts against the world.
However, the film becomes a wretched mess when Jackman’s Dover kidnaps Dano and holds him chained to a bathroom sink in an old home that he plans to renovate. What’s worse, the entire film centers on Jackman’s increased torture of Mr. Dano, scenes that are as offensive as anything you are likely to see on the screen. Dano is not only beaten to a pulp where his face becomes so swollen that he can’t open his eyes, but Jackman thereafter isolates him in a shower where he continually subjects poor Dano to a searing onslaught of incredibly hot water.
At that point the movie loses any semblance of character or feel, and you almost stop caring about whether the two little girls are still alive. More to the point, the movie loses what is left of its dignity when both of the Birches acquiesce in the brutal assault of Mr. Dano. Jackman becomes a modern-day Nazi, with Dano his Jewish victim.
To be quite honest, I am tempted to tell you how this incredibly abusive film ends, but I don’t have the energy to do so. Suffice it to say that Melissa Leo plays Dano’s aunt, going by the name of Holly Jones, and it turns out that she has a diabolical secret that even the incompetent Mr. Gyllenhaal must eventually discover.
While I will again note that the film lasts 2 hours and 30 minutes, that is usually a criticism leveled at many films. I’m not one of them, as I can only observe that many people love going to professional football games where they spend over 3 hours watching an athletic event that involves no more than 20 minutes of actual play.
Good films are good films, and it doesn’t matter how long they last. Here, however, the length only serves to enhance your growing resentment of everything that is taking place on-screen. Director Denis Villeneuve has crafted a repulsive film that turns desperate parents into vicious villains, and I suspect that you will leave the theater resisting the feeling that your soul has been tarnished.