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Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews

Prisoners | Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Paul Dano, Terence Howard, Viola Davis, Maria Bello | Review

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Jacqueline  Monahan

Las Vegas Round The Clock
Jacqueline Monahan is an educator for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also an entertainment reporter for
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Prisoners | Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Paul Dano, Terence Howard, Viola Davis, Maria Bello | Review

Vigilante justice vs. lawful investigation pits Keller Dover (Hugh Jackson) against Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) in this twist-filled race against time to find two abducted little girls.

Dover and his wife Grace (Maria Bello) and the Birch family (Terence Howard and Viola Davis) each have a young daughter that is kidnapped during the course of a Thanksgiving celebration at the Birch home.

Dover’s got his own idea of who snatched his daughter and does some kidnapping himself.  Alex Jones (Paul Dano) becomes the object of his rage while Loki follows leads introduce a much bigger picture of criminal activity and deceit.  Jones is mentally challenged and lives with a middle-aged aunt (Melissa Leo).  Loki investigates several other suspects and strange occurrences related to the crime, while Dover investigates a silent Jones with menace and mayhem.

Days pass.  If you thought Hugh Jackman did a lot of screaming in Wolverine you’ll be amazed at his lung power here, and he’s not even the one being tortured, I mean, interrogated.  The film builds into a decent crescendo of tension that unravels during its last hour in a sprawling scatter shot of information that breaks the carefully constructed (up to that point) pace.

The cat and mouse here does not limit itself to perpetrator and law enforcement, but vigilante and lawman as well, so that the investigatory aspects of the story tracks several red herrings until the guilty party is at last revealed.

The two leading men attack their roles with varying ferocities; Jackman throws himself into anger-fueled despair.  Gyllenhaal is full of deadpan facial tics and laser-like gazes.  Dano’s Alex is a mass of contradictions, alternately sympathetic and repellent.

Terence Howard and Viola Davis play second-string conscience to all of the swirling testosterone and bravado.  Melissa Leo’s drab but brittle character highlights the actress’ versatility, and Maria Bello’s Grace is as helpless in grief as her husband is driven.

Academy Award nominated director Denis Villeneuve (Incendies) seems enthralled with his side trips into the backstory of several cameo characters (one of them is a corpse) and determined that the audience will be too, which means a very slow and sometimes tedious excavation of clues.

At 153 minutes, it’s a long, arduous road to travel that may have benefitted from a shortcut or two.  After an hour and a half of red herrings and clashes between Dover and Loki that stall the case even further, you realize that there is still one full hour to go.

Prisoners would have benefitted from some tighter editing and a bit less expositional pinball its last quarter.  You will either appreciate the unusual ending or feel gypped by it.  

At least you’ll have an idea of why the title is appropriate, perhaps in the case of the audience as well.

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