Blu-ray Edition

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis, Maria Bello, Terrence Howard, Melissa Leo, Paul Dano
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Audio: DTS HD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: Warner Bros.
Features: See Review
Length: 153 Minutes
Release Date: December 17, 2013

He’s not a person anymore. No, he stopped being a person when he took our daughters.”

Film ***1/2

Right from the opening moments of Prisoners, you get an immediate sense of the dark and doom-laden tone that will linger for most of the film. This is one traumatizing, yet undeniably mesmerizing dramatic thriller that places us neck deep in an unpleasant scenario and barely gives us a minute to breathe. The gripping story mixed with immensely strong performances from the incredible cast help make this one of the more effective thriller of recent years.

Here we have a thriller involving a kidnapping of two little girls. And while that’s a familiar plot scenario, never before has a film better conveyed the devastating effect it has on the family connected to the victims. Director Denis Villeneuve, who made the oscar nominated Incendies, has certainly made a film that will make you wish you never have to go through such an experience.

On Thanksgiving Day in a Pennsylvania town, two families get together for a day long celebration. The youngest daughters of both families go outside and never return. It also turns out that an RV parked down the street at the time of the girls’ disappearance has vanished as well.

Thus sets the course for one unnerving and, at times, most unpredictable thriller. The father of one the daughters, Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman), is promised by the detective heading the investigation, Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal), that his daughter will be found. However, when the only kidnapping suspect, Alex (Paul Dano), is let out of police custody after 48 hours, Keller (completely convinced that Alex took his daughter) loses all faith in the police...and decides to take justice into his own hands.

He then becomes a kidnapper himself by abducting Alex in the middle of the night and holding him hostage in an abandoned home he used to live in. Keller, along with the unwilling assistance of Franklin (Terrence Howard), the father of the other missing girl, subjects Alex to some much brutal sets of torture until he confesses. Making matters worse is the fact that Alex has the mentality of a ten year old, so getting any answer out of him won’t be easy, but Kellar proceeds with various torture methods until the boy’s eyes are nearly bulging out of his face.

That’s about all I can afford to reveal about the plot, as I feel I’ve actually spoiled more than I should. But interesting developments are made as Loki proceeds with his investigation. And when he confronts Keller, after having suspicions of what he’s up to, the intensity increases further.

Much of what makes Prisoners a potent film experience lies within its execution. There is a great deal of artistry at play here, whether we’re talking about the effective cinematography of the brilliant Roger Deakins or the fact that for long stretches of the film there’s no music score playing. Those and other elements are effective in enhancing the impact of this very bleak film, which runs a lengthy 153 minutes but never drags for a second.

And as far as the acting is concerned, this is one of the best ensemble casts in quite some time, which is highlighted by its two leads. Hugh Jackman has been on such an amazing streak of great performances lately, most notably his recent and remarkable oscar nominated work in Les Miserables. But his turn here as an man obsessed with finding his daughter and driven to rage in the process might just be his best screen work to date, and that’s saying something.

Jake Gyllenhaal is every bit as effective as the smart and driven detective. It’s the actor’s most mature performance to date, and the scenes between him and Jackman are nothing short of amazing. And when you have actors like Viola Davis, Terrence Howard, Maria Bello and Melissa Leo added to the mix, you know to only expect that of an acting powerhouse.

Prisoners is both a riveting family drama and police procedural thriller. It takes us to places we don’t enjoy visiting, but then again that is a trait of many great thrillers. This is one film that sure to haunt you long after you experience it!

Video ****

This is one fantastic Blu-ray presentation from Warner Bros. There’s an equal balance of daytime and nighttime sequences, and Roger Deakins’ cinematography is captured amazingly well in both cases. Image detail is 100% magnificent from beginning to end, and colors appear in super splendid form!

Audio ***

This is mostly a quiet thriller, with an occasional hint of music score popping in every so often. But the dialogue delivery is handled extremely well, and that’s the key ingredient here. Jackman has a moment or two when he yells so loudly that a speaker might burst (which is a complement). The moody score by Johann Johannsson plays incredibly effective during key scenes, as well!

Features *1/2

Included are two featurettes: “Every Moment Matters” and “Powerful Performances”, which add up to about 12 minutes worth of interviews.

Also included is a bonus DVD copy of the movie which also features a code to download an UltraViolet version.


Prisoners is one of the more engrossing thrillers to come around in some time. The tremendous acting combined with the effective filmmaking and the manner in which the mystery unravels add up to one mesmerizing thriller!

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