Director Denis Villenueve has only a handful of feature length films to his name, and of that handful very few are in English, so you can be fogiven for not knowing his name. But if his latest offering Prisoners is anything to go by you’re going to be hearing it a lot in the coming years.
Prisoners is the story of Keller Dover; a parent whose youngest child is abducted along with a neighbours child and Detective Loki; the police officer heading up the case, portrayed by Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal respecitvely. But it’s not just a crime-thriller, and in fact it’s not at its core about the kidnapping itself. It’s a film about the hollowness left in a parent when their child is taken, and the desperation that follows.
It’s been some time since we’ve seen Jackman in a character driven drama, the musical Les Miserables not withstanding, but he may well have just turned in the performance of his career. It would have been easy to play Dover as simply a wrecking-ball of anger and fury, and at times that’s just what is called for, but it’s the moments in which he pulls back that hit the hardest. Watching Jackman portray a father using every ounce of his effort to maintain a semblance of composure is really something to behold. This also means Jake Gyllenhaal out-doing him is all the more spectacular.
Detective Loki really steals the show in spite of that fact that he gets far less backstory than any of the other central players. A character clearly frustrated by the contstraints of a job that’s taking its toll, Gyllenhaal takes an excellent script and couples it with an expertly nuanced performance which will surely land him many a nomination come awards season.
While it’s the performances of all involved that anchor this film (honourable mentions to Paul Dano, Maria Bello and Dylan Minnette) the script is not to be overlooked. Aaron Guzikowski’s screenplay is exceptionally under-written allowing for the aforementioned performances to convey what needs to be conveyed rather than the usual dumbing down, or spelling out which too often cheapens an otherwise enjoyable movie-watching experience.
Denis Villenueve has taken these ingredients, placed them in a world familiar to anyone who’s lived in modern subrubia, used a stark and ominous score sparingly and delivered something both haunting and brilliant. Prisoners is a film that feels like a slow-burn thriller even though there’s so much happening at any given moment. That may sound like a result of poor pacing but in actuality it’s because this film has been directed in such a remarkable fashion that as a viewer you are confronted with the emptiness and desperation that is weighing down on the players before you and that is the mark of a truly special piece of film making.
Prisoners is in cinemas now.