The Prisoners

Rated NR 2013

If five Oscar nominees lose two young girls in the woods, will their wailing make a sound? That’s the key question of Prisoners, Denis Villeneuve's prestigious puffery about a father (Hugh Jackman) and a cop (Jake Gyllenhaal) trying to catch a kidnapper. Prisoners is a dog-whistle for Academy voters. It might work, except that a) it makes no sense, and b) it's not from Clint Eastwood, the only director with enough swagger to demand such schlock be taken seriously. Our setting is a gray Pennsylvania town, where an ordinary man like Keller (Jackman) can teach his son to hunt in case a hurricane blows civilization away. Keller is a survivalist with an innate certainty that he can do better than the experts. That includes Detective Loki (Gyllenhaal), charged with tracking down Keller's daughter, Anna (Erin Gerasimovich), and neighbor girl Joy (Kyla Drew Simmons) after they go missing. Initially, Keller begs Loki to help him make sense of the facts: Why did local weirdo Alex Jones (Paul Dano), a childlike near-mute, try to escape when questioned by the police? And why can't Loki keep him in custody? Loki brushes him off with police platitudes. He doesn't realize Keller may take matters, er, make that Alex-- into his own hands. And fists. And homemade torture chambers. Villeneuve is interested in the raw ugliness of human desperation, and parts of the film get so bleak that it's surprising to realize it's not a remake of something Swedish. But when human complexities get in the way of screenwriter Aaron Guzikowski's plot twists, he and Villeneuve just throw away the parts that don't fit, hollowing out the story's internal logic.

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