There are movies you go to for light entertainment, a few laughs and maybe to shed a tear or two. If you’ve seen the trailer for “Prisoners,” then you already know this is not one of those movies. Asking big questions and providing no easy answers, “Prisoners” is an intense film about revenge, morality and the slippery nature of justice.
Based on a screenplay by Aaron Guzikowski and directed by Denis Villeneuve, the movie details the events surrounding the disappearance of two 6-year-old girls from their small town Pennsylvania neighborhood on a rainy Thanksgiving afternoon. With only a dilapidated RV driven by a mentally challenged man (portrayed by an effectively creepy Paul Dano) as a first clue to what might have happened to the girls, the tension slowly builds through a maze of increasing complexity and confusion. Don’t expect to find a clearly sympathetic protagonist in this movie — the extreme nature of the situation puts the main characters in a desperate grey area where the moral high ground is in the eye of the beholder.
The impressive cast includes Hugh Jackman as Keller Dover, the distraught father of one of the girls, and Jake Gyllenhaal as lead Detective Loki searching for clues. Dover and Loki balance the intensity of one another to great effect, with Jackman putting in an electrifying performance as the survivalist father bent on finding answers before time runs out. Gyllenhaal delivers an equally intense, though more subdued performance as Detective Loki, investigating the disappearance of the girls with a twitchy, detached persistence, more like a meditative researcher than a hardened detective.
The supporting cast is equally first-rate, with the reliably excellent Maria Bello embodying an internalized grief that serves as another counterpoint to Jackman’s increasing rage and frustration. Terence Howard and Viola Davis are also dependably impressive as the parents of the other missing girl, who are dragged into an unwilling complicity with Jackman's desperate actions against the man he believes to be responsible for the disappearances.