Movie Review #717
Presentation: Alcon Entertainment
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Spoken Languages: English
Directed by Denis Villeneuve. Produced by Kira Davis, Broderick Johnson, Adam Kolbrenner, and Andrew A. Kosove. Written by Aaron Guzikowski.
Rated R by the MPAA – frequent profanity; disturbing content; infrequent, graphic violence. Runs 2 hours, 33 minutes. Premiered at Belgrade on September 18, 2013. Wide relase in the USA on September 20, 2013.
Starring Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis, Maria Bello, Terrence Howard, Melissa Leo, Paul Dano, Dylan Minnette, and Erin Gerasimovich. With a credited cameo appearance by Michelle Keller.
Time to make a pretty personal confession, if only to make this review a bit easier to write. I can sit through movies about the most depraved people. I often say I’m “immune” to movies, because you can make a movie about a guy who commits this and that crime time and again. I’ll willingly watch it. I might even enjoy the movie. But involve that character in child molestation, child murder, child abduction, and that’s when I’m done for. I still wonder why it’s only this topic that gets me, but anything that specifically involves putting children’s lives in danger is, by its own nature, just too disturbing for me.
Ergo two things. One, I face great trouble in saying that I “enjoyed” “Prisoners”. But I won’t deny that it’s a good movie. Two, the movie is, in my book, effective without having to do more than show up; it could be the most offensively awful movie ever made, and I’d still find it effective for the subject matter.
But “Prisoners” is a good movie, and there’s better ways of saying that. Several. If TV crime procedurals actually worried about more than name-dropping, being sponsored, making money, etc., they’d have a script with drama. I’d say that even the best of those scripts could only be half as good as “Prisoners”. Most of this is due to strong character development. Its way of identifying its ensemble cast is clever and well conceived: we’re not concerned with the happenings between characters during one crime, because once one crime has led to a few more (all involving prisoners, not so surprisingly), the whole thing’s about what Character X is hiding from Character Y. And how to slap a label on Character Z–the encompassing “whodunit.”
Now and then, the plot actually thins a little. Now and then. As in, not that often, but it’s easy to tell just why this movie is an inspired one. In the very first scene, a man shoots a deer. Not sure why, but that’s the most common opening scene I’ve noticed. Later on, “Psycho” and “The Silence of the Lambs” are paid homage. Not that you have to look for it, so long as you can automatically recall the Buffalo Bill manhunt when you see an identical basement.
On the plus side, the movie is impressively faithful to classical film-noir. Jake Gyllenhaal looks, sounds, acts like a 1950’s flick detective, but it’s really (drum roll) the camera that so definitively establishes style here. The camerawork practices the inventive effect that has been on the “wanted” list since John Carpenter’s “Halloween”. The cinematography (from that very first shot of the deer, moving back toward the gun) is incredible. Maybe I’m not the voice of reason, but I’d wager that it’s haunting all on its own, complemented by the use of simplistic music. The sound mixing, I might additionally note, adds to the intensity of this thriller.
“Prisoners” is a David Fincher movie from a director who doesn’t answer to that name. I say this having Fincher in my top ten: very little could he have added to the outcome. And if anything, he’s already done it, maybe even on a lesser level. “Prisoners” is much of the same mosaic full of red herrings that was “Zodiac” in 2007. Except “Zodiac” isn’t set in a neighborhood, and it doesn’t deliver its narrative so personally.
PRISONERS IS AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY AND DVD.