This provocative film opens with a father and son hunting in the woods, the Lord’s Prayer recited in voiceover. The viewer sees the father, Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) as a deeply religious man, a carpenter who believes in family values and the safety of his community. When his little girl and her friend go missing on Thanksgiving Day, the world he has believed in is destroyed. “Prisoners” is a powerful tale of human nature gone awry. What are parents capable of in their darkest moment, when their worst nightmare happens?
Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) is put in charge of the investigation and immediately arrests a mentally compromised driver of an RV, Alex Jones (the mesmerizing Paul Dano), because his vehicle had been parked nearby. However, due to a lack of physical evidence, Jones is released.
“Prisoners” is not for the fainthearted. Although violent and disturbing, the twists in the multiple crimes are riveting and the clues are tautly woven together. Detective Loki pursues different leads while both girls’ families begin to unravel. Keller’s wife (Maria Bello) is seen mostly in fetal position, sedated and semi-comatose from the loss. The other parents in grief and desperation (played by Terrence Howard and Viola Davis) raise serious moral issues but the viewer is left with questions unanswered. In some ways, the extreme suspense of “Prisoners” contributes to an equally disturbing portrait of characters who are convinced they have morality on their side.
Although an unusually long film (153 minutes), “Prisoners” sucks the viewer in from the first frame. Its portrayal of the desperate nature of people who believe they are good, righteous God-fearing people with strong moral convictions is nothing short of dazzling. When their view of the world turns upside down, all hell breaks loose. No more can be said about the plot, without giving away too much. That being said, this film is a model for screenplays, with unexpected tensions in almost every scene. While some threads of the plot are not neatly tied together (perhaps edited out), the substance of this thriller with its astounding cast will kidnap your mind.