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  Prisoners Finders Flee
Year: 2013
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Stars: Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis, Maria Bello, Terrence Howard, Melissa Leo, Paul Dano, Dylan Minette, Zoë Soul, Erin Gerasimovich, Kyla-Drew, Wayne Duvall, Len Cariou, David Dastmalchian, Brad James, Robert C. Treveiler, Sandra Ellis Lafferty
Genre: Drama, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 2 votes)
Review: Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) has been out hunting deer with his teenage son, and as it is Thanksgiving, they return home to his wife Grace (Maria Bello) and younger daughter, then head off to a friend's home to celebrate the season. He is Franklin Birch (Terrence Howard), married to Nancy (Viola Davis), and they also have two kids, one a teenage girl and the other a daughter more the age of the Dovers' youngest. But as they prepare the meal and generally shoot the breeze, they notice the two youngest kids are absent, and begin to wonder where they have gone. Hours later, the police have been called and a full-scale hunt for the children is well underway, with one lead...

Director Denis Villeneuve received high praise from critics and audiences alike for his adaptation of a script by Aaron Guzikowski, which had been one of the highest profile choices for the annual Black List of top quality but unproduced screenplays, and indeed took a good while to be made. When it was, it earned them a big hit, probably because it hit the spot delivered by the crime fiction of the day, paperbacks where the worst of human behaviour can be conveniently consumed as entertainment, you know the type of thing, it was a multimillion dollar industry by this decade, and film versions followed with a crushing inevitability, though not always great artistic success.

Prisoners was not based on one of those books, but it might as well have been, for it adhered to the twisty-turny plotting that marked out their structure, as well as the depiction of the modern world as one step away from an absolute, blasted hellhole. Such paperbacks had taken over from horror a couple of decades before as the most lucrative genre, though they included the same degrees of violence and depravity, but with a more respectable standing where the readers could reassure themselves they were not sullying their bookshelves with anything as grubby and nasty as a horror yarn, this was crime, so completely different, then. Yes, there was a degree of hypocrisy involved.

But then again, many of the writers responsible knew how to supply a rattling good yarn, so there was a valid reason to keep their readership coming back for more, even if they were unwilling to admit precisely how trashy these works could get. The same was true of Prisoners, which as with so many of these took the Thomas Harris inspiration of bloodthirsty detail with smart characters struggling against being too affected detrimentally by the ghastliness they are encountering, all orchestrated by a criminal mind that you did not get in real life, since most criminals are not smart enough to see that they could get caught, never mind pull together a complex scheme to either prove their overall warped genius or teach the world a lesson, a wakeup call to the complacency they see as dragging society down.

So we're back to the hypocrisy, and the kidnappers here certainly had that kind of motive, though for the first two hours (of two-and-a-half) we were bogged down in the troubled activities of Keller and the detective investigating, the portentously-named Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal), who both not only struggle against the dark side that the crimes have brought out in them, but drag those around them down to that level as well. This was well enough acted, but as a study of that very current topic of toxic masculinity it fumbled the conclusion when Keller's actions, which include torture of a vulnerable man (Paul Dano) he suspects killed his daughter, but without any evidence, lead Keller to become a victim himself. It's not too clear what attracted the Black List to this, as its concept of police work seemed to have been gleaned from watching series television - Loki has been assigned to investigate almost single-handedly, it would appear, all the better to allow the star to show off in the role; similarly, Jackman did his Wolverine rage act, except with more gore than Marvel usually allowed (at least till Logan). It tried to be smart, but the nastiness aside, it was more silly. Music by Jóhann Jóhannsson.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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