Thanks to a large variety of programming, television recently (or still is, depending on who you ask) experienced a Golden Age. Yet with all these new avenues to explore television there still are way too many crime thrillers on television. Even with films the genre of crime thrillers has almost become a cliché. So it was quite interesting to recently see an acclaimed foreign director make his American film debut with a crime thriller. While there are more nuances within the characters of Denis Villeneuve’s Prisoners than your typical crime thriller, the clichéd twists and turns of the genre only allow the film to go so far.
Prisoners follows the hunt for two missing girls from the perspective of the families of the two missing girls (Hugh Jackman, Viola Davis, Maria Bello and Terrence Howard) and the dedicated detective assigned to the case (Jake Gyllenhaal). The Denis Villeneuve (Oscar-nominated Incendies) directed film is written by Aaron Guzikowski (who wrote the Mark Wahlberg film Contraband).
Denis Villeneuve is clearly a talented director. He gives so much depth to the characters of these films just through tiny visual cues. There were probably too many to catch on just one viewing so repeated viewings of this film will be quite fruitful to viewers. However, the rest of his style becomes problematic as it doesn’t translate into anything original or edgy (which is clearly what he was going for in this film). The dark atmosphere just comes across as bland while scenes of gore come without any shock value now that we see these two things on such a consistent basis on television and film. As interesting as these characters may be there just isn’t a strong enough visual style or storyline (which becomes filled with clichéd twists in the final act) to sustain them. To make matters even worse the film suddenly ends on a cliffhanger ending that doesn’t add any depth to the film.
Luckily, the cast of the film is quite exceptional. Hugh Jackman plays a cliché-riddled protagonist, but these clichés give a lot of room for Jackman to act. He makes the most of those opportunities. Jake Gyllenhaal gives a great physical performance. His character may be a bit dry, but Gyllenhaal does everything he possibly can to make him interesting. Viola Davis and Terrence Howard do solid work as the secondary couple in the film. Davis, especially, makes the most of her time and really nails a scene that has her character meeting a character of interest to her. The supporting cast is led by an outstanding performance from Melissa Leo. She takes a backseat for most of the film, but she was so unrecognizable that I didn’t realize it was her until she became front and center in the film’s final act. Meanwhile, Paul Dano is perfectly cast as a suspect and Dylan Minnette continues to show why he may have a bright future in this business.
Prisoners features some strong performances, but there is not enough within the film to separate it from the large pack of recent crime-thrillers.