Prisoners is one of those great movies that visit the theater once in a while. It is a genre film which reminds us why genre films are made in the first place. It’s been a while since I saw a film where I came out and wanted to understand the plot better. This itself calls for a revisit. It’s also been a while since I saw a film which was about something and had something to say about it. There are many films with a good plot but there are few which have a deep emotional core and even fewer that have a larger perspective about life.
Prisoners is immaculately directed, features terrific performances across the board and is shot oh so beautifully you want to kiss Roger Deakins (the god of modern cinematography). To top all of this, there is a twist at the end, which actually works! Who doesn’t love a good twist?
Hugh Jackman is brilliant as Keller, a religious man whose faith is challenged as his daughter gets kidnapped. There is one heart-breaking scene where Jackman makes sure you react the exact same way he does. The other actors in the film are all superlative – Viola Davis, Paul Dano, Terrence Howard, Maria Bello and Melissa Leo. The one actor who stood out for me was Jake Gyllenhaal. I’ve always felt Gyllenhaal had a limited range but here he displays more. The character he gets to portray - Detective Loki is also the best in the film. For me, he was the hero. The true religious man who is hell-bent on doing his job right. His one-pointedness is impressive.
This film is essentially Mystic River (2003) meets Zodiac (2007) meets The Silence of the Lambs (1991). There is a distraught father of a kidnapped daughter, there is an unsolvable mystery and there are pits. It also reminded me of M (1931) and Frailty (2001). M is possibly the best film made about a serial killer and Frailty is one of the most underrated films ever made. If you haven’t seen Frailty, dig it out and watch it NOW. If you like the twist in this film make sure you watch it.
Denis Villeneuve is a director to look out for. His previous film, Incendies (2010) was widely appreciated for its shocking story but I found the film rather shallow. The plot revelations took center stage and the drama was shortchanged. Apart from a Radiohead song beautifully used (there is a great Radiohead song used in this film too, yes it’s the title of the review), there wasn’t much to take back. There isn’t any such quibble here. There is genuine storytelling present, the screenplay is original and it has detailing that scripts adapted from novels usually contain.
Why I believe Prisoners is a great movie involves spoilers. If you don’t want the suspense revealed (of course you don’t), please stop reading.
(Why are you still reading if you haven’t seen it? Stop!)
We find out that the serial killers in the movie were anti-religious nuts. They wanted to wage a war against god. They kidnap kids and wait till their parents turn into demons. This is exactly what happens to Keller. From what I interpreted he turned into a Hitler-like monster where he almost went as far as gassing a human being in a chamber (Hitler was raised Catholic and later misinterpreted Christianity to suit his diabolic needs). The beauty of this film is how it seems morally and spiritually ambiguous, but to me, its stance is pretty clear. The point of the film isn’t that all religious people are nut jobs. It is definitely not showing faithful men and women as weak, in fact it shows how every human being’s faith (or lack of it) is challenged. This reveals true character. Moreover, it shows that God’s way of resolving the mystery stands above any man. Good, bad or those in between. Whoever trespasses (commits a crime), pays for it. Not the way humans intend but the way a higher power deems fit. In the film, all the murderers die, the father did not have faith and was imprisoned at the end. (The beauty again here is not the actual jail for men but the jail he created for himself in his mind or the one created for him in the form of a pit by a higher power, whatever you like). Whoever has faith, gets rewarded. They are delivered from evil. Most importantly, this film brings forth and vanquishes the scum of the earth – people who want others to lose faith.
(End of spoilers)
The film intrinsically is about hope. In the darkest, bleakest of scenarios, it offers a numinous resolution. The final scene (with the whistles) is simply stunning. That is what movies are made for. Mark my words, that gloriously cinematic ending will be referenced and parodied in the future. A definite sign of a film that endures. I cannot stress enough on the eminence of this motion picture. If you watch it more than once and don’t catch something new, you would have successfully proved otherwise. Till then, you can relish the experience of witnessing this great film for the first time.view less