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'Prisoners' - gripping till the very end

Troy Ribeiro
27 September 2013

Film: "Prisoners"; Cast: Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis, Maria Bello, Terrence Howard, Melissa Leo, Paul Dano, Dylan Minnette, Zoe Soul, Erin Gerasimovich and Kyla-Drew Simmons; Director: Denis Villeneuve; Rating: ****

"Prisoners" is an intense mystery thriller that blurs the line of morality. It is about good and evil, doing what is right and necessary and is layered over a tale of the prey, the predator and the survival of the fittest.

It is a story of abducted kids, their parents' angst and perseverance in order to find them.

The film begins with Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) reciting the Catholic payer "Our father..." while his teenage son Ralph (Dylan Minnette), shoots down his first hunt, a deer.

This scene explains that god is the reason for every action committed, but paradoxically in the very next scene, in the vehicle on their way back from the hunt, Keller tells his son that in the battle of survival, "It gets to a point where the only thing standing between you and another person is you."

This lays the foundation to the narration.

It is Thanksgiving Day. Keller Dover, his wife Grace (Maria Bello), son Ralph and six-year-old daughter Anna (Erin Gerasimovich) are having a good time partying along with their neighbours, the Birchs; Franklin and Nancy (Terrence Howard and Viola Davis), their teenage daughter Elizia (Zoe Soul) and Joy (Kyla-Drew Simmons), who is close to Anna's age.

Suddenly in the middle of the celebrations, Anna and Joy go missing. Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) pitches in. Alex Wintermann Jones (Paul Dano), a 26-year-old man with the IQ of a 10-year-old, with a worn-out recreational vehicle, is considered a suspect.

Convinced of Alex's guilt and not depending on god or the law to take its own course, Keller has his own agenda. Desperate to find their daughter, the Birchs too, take a stand with, "We won't help Keller, but won't stop him either. God knows where he will lead to." This act does question ethics.

Jackman gives a solid, unwavering performance, tapping into a sometimes protective, more often frightening fury. His misery and pain, seeing his wife suffer is palpable. Also, one would vacillate while judging him when he lashes out at Alex. Jackman is Keller Dover to the core.

Of the supporting cast, all are notable and convincing. The families are beautifully established and you'll care about what happens simply because kids are involved. You feel you are seeing real people, reliving their moments.

Apart from the family, it is Melissa Leo as Holly Jones, Alex's caring aunt, who is impressive and Paul Dano as the conflict ridden Alex for whom your heart would bleed. His performance is extraordinary and restrained, difficult to figure out.

Visually, "Prisoners" is enthralling. Cinematographer Roger Deakins captures the pristine beauty of landscape on outskirts of Pennsylvania during the late autumn and early winter, giving some astounding imagery.

The direction and editing is compact and good. The understated score brilliantly builds ample amounts of suspense.

The script, with its psychological tropes, is spellbinding and slow. It hardly ever meanders making it creepy yet compelling. It has enough punches and evocative moments. Director Denis Villeneuve has the gift that can hook the audience, making this film exceptional.

It definitely is not going to be an easy task to watch this film without questioning your values.

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