movie film review | chris tookey


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  Prisoners Review
Tookey's Rating
4 /10
Average Rating
6.55 /10
Hugh Jackman , Maria Bello, Viola Davis
Full Cast >

Directed by: Denis Villeneuve
Written by: Aaron Guzikowski

Released: 2013
Origin: US
Colour: C
Length: 146

A long and pointless sentence.
Reviewed by Chris Tookey

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Prisoners is being tipped to win Oscars, but I have my doubts. An intense performance by Hugh Jackman (pictured), David Fincher-influenced direction by French-Canadian director Denis Villeneuve (the models here are Se7en and Zodiac) and first-rate cinematography by Roger Deakins can’t rescue a thriller that needed many more rewrites before it went into production.

It does have an intense, riveting story to tell – every parent’s worst nightmare, as two little girls go missing in rural Pennysylvania. Suspicion falls on creepy Alex Jones (Paul Dano), the mentally handicapped driver of a dilapidated recreational vehicle parked near where the girls disappeared.

The investigating detective (Jake Gyllenhaal) releases Jones for lack of evidence, at which point one of the missing girls’ fathers (Jackman) takes the law into his own hands, imprisoning and torturing Jones for information.

Jackman’s behaviour poses the interesting question of how far we would go for the sake of our children, and has wider resonance in the light of American methods during the War on Terror. Jackman plays the leading role like a man possessed. Although he’s nowhere near as nuanced as he was in Les Miserables, he may – as Sean Penn did for Mystic River - win an Oscar by shouting a lot.

The film is let down by an abysmal ignorance of police procedure. No case like this would be left to one man; it would be a huge manhunt with the FBI involved.

Moreover, Aaron Guzikowski’s script makes Gyllenhaal’s allegedly crack detective look lazy and incompetent. Not only does he fail to search properly for the children, he never bothers to check if witnesses are telling him the truth.

Even when he discovers an alleged child-sex killer mummified in the cellar of a local paedophile priest (Len Cariou), he doesn’t seem sufficiently determined to find out if the death might have any bearing on the new case.

He is incredibly lax when his chief suspect disappears. And, in the final crisis, when any sensible person would call for back-up, he doesn’t. He’s as naive and clueless throughout as a teenage girl in a bad horror movie.

Worse still, there’s a red herring of whalelike proportions, that makes no sense and stretches the tale out to a much too long two and a half hours. At one point, a whole lot of snakes appear, unexplained, just in order to creep us out. And this leads to more drivel concerning mazes and secret maps.

It was around this point that I realised the script was being made up as it went along, with few concessions to logic or believability.

Meanwhile, the film is so busy labouring the parallels with US foreign policy and enumerating the ways in which most of the characters are, in their way, prisoners, that it completely forgets to deepen them or make us care – a waste of strong actors such as Maria Bello, Viola Davis and Terrence Howard.

When the kidnapper is unmasked, you probably won’t see it coming – but that’s because, in the light of all that has gone before, the solution begs many more questions than it answers.

If you don’t believe me, just ask yourself afterwards how the police forensic scientists found no trace of the girls in any of the places they were looking.

By the end, a film that seems at first as if it’s going to be some kind of grim masterpiece becomes yet another insult to moviegoers’ intelligence

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