Prisoners Blu-ray Review
It feels like recently there have been a lot of movies with solid, or even great actors that make you excited about going to the theater. But I’ve been getting frustrated because when I finally get to the theater the vast majority of the films don’t seem to effectively tell their story. Whether it is poor use of the actors, people being miscast in roles that initially seemed interesting, or just shoddy writing, the end result has been depressing. Then a movie like PRISONERS comes out and is the exact opposite and it completely blew me away.
PRISONERS is the story of three families and the detective trying to piece together the mystery at the heart of the film. First we have the Dover’s and the Birch’s, two families who are best friends despite fairly different backgrounds. When they get together for Thanksgiving dinner the kids pair off and play. Later the two young girls want to walk back to the Dover’s home (down the street) so the parents are careful to make sure they are escorted by the older siblings to stay safe. But even later in the evening, the girls sneak out without their chaperone siblings and vanish without a trace. No one can find them, and a search ensues, with Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) and Franklin Birch (Terrence Howard) at the head of the search party.
The policeman assigned to the case, Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a different sort. It’s clear he lives and breathes his job and he’s the first guy on the scene. What Loki finds, though, inside a suspicious RV the older kids remember from the street earlier that day, is a strange man with the mind of a child. Could this man be the person who took the children? And if he was, how could he have made them disappear without a trace? Though both families are decimated by the disappearance, they are even more upset by the potential release of this young man – nobody believes he could be the mastermind of such a disappearance. We then meet Alex’s aunt, who also believes there’s no way the children could have been taken by her nephew, she believes there is no way Alex could be capable of taking these children.
I’ve written a few times about the feelings I have being a father of two young children. PRISONERS is the story of two families who both have to deal with their worst nightmare, the disappearance of one of their children. Watching this movie is incredibly difficult for any parent but the reason it is so difficult is because the two couples who play the families of the missing children hit the two responses, the duality, inside of each of us. Hugh Jackman’s Keller Dover is the father who will stop at nothing to find his daughter – a part we have seen in other films portrayed as a hero. Keller and Franklin are real men; they aren’t caricatures of what might happen if faced with such a crisis, they are honest portrayals of the difficulty of an unsolvable problem.
Keller and Franklin, and the rest of the cast, are in fact so good in their roles the movie is incredibly difficult to watch. As a father, I’d like to think I’d be more steady, more solid, like Franklin. Obviously torn apart, Terrence Howard plays Franklin Birch as the man we hope we could be. But Jackman is the star who really shines, the man who takes matters into his own hands and will stop at NOTHING to find his daughter. The scary part of PRISONERS isn’t the fear we feel at seeing Jackman transform and become a kidnapper’s worst nightmare… it’s the way we identify with his reaction and wonder ourselves, could we also turn into the monster? Paul Dano plays Alex Jones, the young man suspected of kidnapping the children, and he turns in a masterful if subdued performance with very few lines in the film.
Speaking of brilliant performances (and PRISONERS is full of them), Detective Loki is played brilliantly by Jake Gyllenhaal. There are hints of something greater driving this detective to the lengths to which he goes. Sadly, probably because of pacing, he never fully gets to take the reins and those things end up existing on top of the character instead of intrinsic to his character… meaning Loki ends up a bit one-dimensional, despite Gyllenhaal’s best efforts. Additionally, Maria Bello as Mrs. Dover is phenomenal but we only really get to see her in a kind of negative light, the spark that ignites the gunpowder that is her husband. She is countered by the slightly more level-minded Mrs. Birch, played masterfully by Viola Davis.
PRISONERS moves quickly but due to the rough, raw emotions throughout the movie it feels like it is moving slowly. Director Denis Villeneuve puts together a movie with PRISONERS that feels like a terrifying documentary, an investigation into the souls of the very people we try to be and who we might become when pushed to the limit. PRISONERS is the type of movie that takes us all a step forward, giving us a better understanding of our place within the flawed human condition. The only problem I have with this movie aside from not being particularly fond of the ending is that there is so much more story to tell. Bello and Davis, as the wives of our two patriarchs, should be given more time to develop. Same thing goes for Gyllenhaal as Loki, it would have been nice to understand him a little bit better. Still, a great movie and one that I cannot recommend highly enough.
Video: (1080p Widescreen 1.85:1) The video presentation of PRISONERS is beautiful high definition, immersing us into the dark grey landscape as we descend further and further into the question – where does being a good father end and violent madness take over?
Audio: (English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1) The audio is also wonderfully done. PRISONERS is a study in quiet, silent pain and the score and soundtrack pair with this perfectly.
Behind the Scenes: PRISONERS – Every Moment Matters (03:05) Starts out with a lot of the trailer, then this PRISONERS special feature delves a little bit deeper into the story behind the movie. Includes interview footage, but I would have liked to have a lot more here from this disappointingly meager offering.
Behind the Scenes: PRISONERS – Powerful Performances (09:24) This featurette focuses on the performances with interviews with the actors talking about each other and how they found their characters.
The PRISONERS Blu-ray/DVD Combo package also features the Theatrical Trailer (02:24), sneak peeks of other titles, and a DigitalHD UltraViolet digital copy.