Prisoners is a pulpy crime thriller elevated to event film status by top-notch filmmakers. It outstays its welcome by a good half hour but still proves compelling, thanks in part to subject matter that practically demands emotional investment from an audience: children in peril.
A lot of attention will go to Jackman’s turn as a survivalist dad driven to extremes to find his abducted daughter, and to his credit he gives it his all. But it’s Gyllenhaal’s performance as Detective Loki that feels the most lived in (although he does overdo it with a certain nervous twitch), and it’s with him that our sympathies ultimately lie.
The central mystery that drives the movie ends up being a bit silly, stitched together from similar films that suggest every small American town houses at least one raving loony. A few of the more left-field plot turns remain puzzling once all has been revealed. But director Denis Villeneuve keeps the focus on the aftermath of the abductions, wallowing in the panic and grief and giving Jackman a chance to flex his acting muscles.
With subject matter this dreary, Prisoners can be a bit of a slog at times. Villeneuve has a point to make about people being capable of terrible things when pushed to extremes, and he makes it very bluntly, only to drop this line of thought once it’s time for the big finale. Prisoners can’t seem to decide what sort of film it wants to be, and so it ends up slightly muddled, engrossing enough in the moment but frustratingly insubstantial on reflection.