TIFF Review: “Prisoners” – A No-Holds Barred Thrill Ride

Written by Rachel Ganzewinkel September 09, 2013


How far will a father go to find his missing daughter? When Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) butts heads with the lonely and genius Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal), it seems like you know exactly where the movie is going to go – a man takes the law into his own hands because law enforcement is a bunch of time-wasting, bumbling idiots. “Prisoners” sounds like a pretty basic thriller when described like this. But that couldn’t be further from the truth even if you said it was aliens the whole time.

Tense, Emotional, Flawless

The screenplay was written by Aaron Guzikowski and it was directed by French Canadian Denis Villeneuve. Be sure to become familiar with those names because they are going to become a big deal very, very soon. The intricate and deeply felt script is flawless. The story is clench-your-armrest-til-it-hurts suspenseful and the tense, emotional journey it takes you on will stick with you long after the credits finish rolling.
The direction is magic. Villeneuve is a genuine talent that has an instinctual eye that brings out the most emotional gut-punch possible out of every shot. He knows when to become intimate with the character. He brings the shot in close so the audience can see every line of stress, anxiety, and dread they are going through as the horror of a missing child wears them out. This entire movie is pure gold.

The players are all renowned for their extensive bodies of quality work as well as nominations and wins for past performances. Maria Bello plays Grace Dover, the emotional wreck of a mother who can barely leave her bed after her daughter Anna goes missing. Viola Davis and Terrence Howard are Nancy and Franklin Birch who’s daughter Joy disappears alongside her friend Anna. Then there’s the powerhouse that is Hugh Jackman. His portrayal of Keller Dover is heartbreaking, terrifying, and the best of his career thus far. He is mind blowing. But he is not the only stand-out. Jake Gyllenhaal is superb as a cop who can hold it together for the sake of the parents of the kids he’s trying to help, until he explodes periodically with frustration, anger, and a wrenching sadness that inevitably exists in cases of missing children.


Waging a War Against God

Every role is award worthy. And let me not forget the so-far underrated actor that is Paul Dano. He is the only cast member who has not been nominated for an acting award- so far. His depiction of a man whose mental growth is stuck at 10 years old is one that took grand dedication and the resulting genuine performance was absolutely worth it. His character, Alex Jones, is the one initially arrested for the abduction of the children. The complicated combination of having to evoke sympathy from the character while being shown as something of a criminal was pulled off with seeming ease by the talented Dano. In fact, all of the actors were able to pull off that combination in a movie that deals with morals and their inevitable grey areas.

“Prisoners” tackles moral ambiguity through each character. Nobody is good or bad, instead, everybody embodies both. Every character is a product of their own grief and their questionable actions could be explained by their depression and need for redemption and understanding as to why such terrible things could happen to such “good” folks. “Good folks” being ones who believe in God, go to church, and pray. But are they really “good” if they immediately abandon their faith in exchange for extreme and violent acts for understanding and healing? Each of the performances evoke sympathy for the character while simultaneously wanting to give them the justice they deserve. The violence, the torture, must amount to something, right? Perhaps.



“Prisoners” will lead you through a winding maze of emotion and heart-pounding suspense. The story, the direction, the acting, all equals a piece of art that will keep you guessing up until the very end. The only thing that could’ve used a bit more care, was Melissa Leo’s fat suit as Alex Jones’ mother Holly Jones. The appearance looked rough and rushed, but literally everything else is perfection. “Prisoners” has raised the already high bar of grand cinematic achievement with this flawless film that is sure to earn accolades at every award show from now until the Oscars. The only difficult part will be deciding who gets that Best Supporting Actor nod. Paul Dano, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Terrence Howard all bring their best game in the movie-to-see of the year.

My Rating: 9.5/10


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About Rachel Ganzewinkel

Rachel loves movies and writing and has found the perfect amalgamation in writing movie reviews for We Eat Films. In between movie watching and the real-life world of work, she enjoys tea, reading, writing, and wearing over-size sweaters (while occassionally doing some of these simultaneously).

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