Premise: Two families in Pennsylvania have their young daughters kidnapped out of nowhere on Thanksgiving. They go through the frantic motions of looking for them endlessly for the first week they are missing (which is the film’s timeline). At the same time, a detective who’s never lost a case (Jake Gyllenhaal) also looks for the girls. One of the dads (Hugh Jackman) kidnaps a mentally challenged suspect (Paul Dano) who he believes 100% is the girls’ kidnapper, and locks him in a bathroom where he can torture him to get answers while they continue to look for the girls. Then Gyllenhaal starts looking into Jackman, but they are both looking for the girls still. And I think there’s close to three other subplots. It’s a long movie.
-This felt like a less-awesome version of Zodiac in a lot of ways. I put that in the pros side of things because any comparison to Zodiac is a good thing. Zodiac rules. Jake Gyllenhaal’s character basically walked off the set of Zodiac, smoked 50 cigarettes, got a neck tattoo, and walked on the set of Prisoners. He also does that thing that some people do where they blink really aggressively all the time. Actiiiiiiing!
-There’s lots of good cinematography. It’s probably in my top ten best photographed films of the year, but closer to the ten spot than the one spot.
-I think Hugh Jackman is going for the Oscar here. He’s in full-on “teary-eyed yelling” mode, in all its bathroom sink destroying glory. Good performance, if not a little one-note (or maybe it just felt that way because it went on so long).
-Paul Dano doesn’t have many lines, but boy, does he play a good torture victim. He’s just got that kind of crazy face that works well for frantic terror. He’s got some moments that displayed great emotion, even when all we’re looking at is a closeup of one of his eyes.
-There are some truly intense scenes of suspense. Scenes where I wasn’t sure of what the outcome would be. It’s those kind of scenes that make this movie almost good.
-The morality questions Prisoners provides are really interesting, but almost impossible to talk about without spoiling the plot. SO I WON’T.
-It has graphic torture without necessarily being torture porn. It can be done!
-It’s two and a half hours long.
-It’s a well-written story at its core, and offers a lot of compelling moments, It’s just not edited together with any kind of restraint. There’s a lot of showing people go from point A to point B in full, and offers up way too many moments that the director clearly included to let the film “breathe.” I didn’t dislike the pacing the film had, it’s just that it could have had the same pacing with the same impact, and be 30 minutes shorter. IT’S JUST TOO LONG.
-On that note, there was a scene, probably 2 hours and 15 minutes into the film, that was basically a person driving another person to the hospital, and it was a full two minutes long. There was no consequence for the fast-paced driving, and if there was, it would have been a ridiculous story point. It was basically a deleted scene that shouldn’t have made the movie, but did. I felt this way about several other scenes too.
-Are we out of elderly actresses? Are we just settling for Melissa Leo in a grey wig now?
-Yo, Hugh Jackman, stop interfering with the police investigation! You’re both looking for the same people! I understand that he was distraught from having lost his daughter, but he makes a lot of silly logic choices throughout the movie. Especially at the end. Oh man, does he do some real stupid stuff at the end. Stuff that would have been fine had he just alerted the police beforehand.
-The two old ladies sitting in my row had an open discussion, out-loud, in the middle of the movie about whether or not they should leave (they didn’t). But that didn’t stop old lady #1 from sighing loudly every 45 seconds because old lady #2 wanted to see how it ended. A bit inconsiderate of a gesture, considering the sighs were obnoxiously loud, and there were people sitting close to them (like me); but I understand why there were reacting this way. By the time we get to the 7th scene of Hugh Jackman punching Paul Dano in the face repeatedly without getting any answers, you start to feel bad. Real bad. And real sad. Like, why are we watching this again? And why is it taking up our whole afternoon?
-I won’t ruin the twist at all, but I didn’t like it. It kind of just made me look back at the film as a whole, and ask, why did we have to sit here for two and a half hours for this twist?
-The film’s final moments are kind of open-ended, and end on an ambiguous note, Not exactly what I was looking for in a film this long. You didn’t see Lord of the Rings ending with Frodo standing on the edge of Mount Doom, lifting his head towards the camera for three seconds and then cutting to black right as he opens his hand with the ring in it. Prisoners had a very Inception-like close, where we are supposed to go “WHOA, DID HIS FACE TWITCH SLIGHTLY DURING THE LAST TWO FRAMES BEFORE IT CUT TO BLACK? DURRR, I THINK IT DID! IF ONLY THEY SHOWED FIVE MORE FRAMES!” My take on the last few frames of the film were: once the credits finally hit, I immediately jumped out of my seat and ran to the bathroom, because I drank a medium Coke and have been sitting there for two and a half hours.
Final Thoughts: I may have gone overboard in badmouthing the length of Prisoners during this review. But seriously, it’s really long. I wish I could have watched it at home, and paused it and taken a break and come back to it later. It’s a film that depressed the hell out of me, and at a certain point (probably 100 minutes into it), I just really wanted it to end because I was getting fatigued. I guess that’s Prisoners biggest fault. While I think it’s a watchable movie (if you were to view it at your own pace), it’s a bit of a struggle to comfortably sit there all the way through it. Some long movies are capable of holding the audience’s attention without problems (like Zodiac!). And Prisoners is fortunate enough to put *most* of the most thrilling stuff in the third act. Still, it’s not without its occasionally boring and unnecessary scenes. *But* despite that, it has its other problems; problems that would have been there even if they had more control of themselves in the editing room. And because of that, for all its faults and all its merits, Prisoners just sort of teeters on the thin line between being kind of great, and totally sucking. Also, did I mention that it’s too long?
6.5 out of 10