Mimicking the labyrinthine grandiosity of 2007’s Zodiac while substituting palpable human drama for factuality, Denis Villeneuve’s Prisoners mildly overcomes procedural and subjective familiarity via an assured aesthetic and tonal evenness. Honing in on the abrupt Thanksgiving Day kidnapping of one Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) and a friend’s (Terrence Howard) daughters, Aaron Guzikowski’s narrative subsequently employs the young-but-seasoned Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) to helm the missing persons case at the film’s core as violent vigilantism pulls a desperate father toward the wrong side of the law.
Given the aforementioned structural familiarity of similar subgenre-centric efforts, what Prisoners has going for it exists solely within the realm of gritty pseudo-realism and general adroitness. While not wholly cloying, the script frequently jerks viewers around in a desperate attempt to throw them off its scent, a foreseeable twist here and there existing as we sense they would as one or two discernibly key ones embarrassingly grasp for said misdirection.
As an agreeably wide-reaching point of interest, it becomes all-too-easy for the film to bank on the force-fed emotionality lacing the core families’ plights, Mr. Dover’s increasingly aberrant behavior succumbing to diminishing returns as it’s tiresomely documented. While grating in its own right, the proceedings become absurd enough so as to steer clear of authenticity, Prisoners‘ touchy subject matter broodily but deftly evoking what it sets out to as we uncomfortably await upcoming turning points in the protagonists’ entwining states of affairs.
In true procedural fashion, Villeneuve’s latest unashamedly exploits its Roger Deakins-enhanced imagery to match a barely apt handling of narrative conventionality. An overall evenness more often than not trumps central characters’ absurdly saccharine actions, even as said actions do nothing but contribute valuably to Prisoners‘ nigh influential shock value. Banking more on passive aesheticism, strong performances and a characteristic propensity for convincing enough twists, Prisoners is a notable endurance test worthy of slim to moderate praise.