“Prisoners” is a dark, thought-provoking thriller for the grown-up audience that made “Silence of the Lambs” a hit.
This is smart, edgy and not always easy to watch. And it keeps you guessing nearly all the way through its running time of 2½ hours — and that’s 2½ hours, incidentally, that you won’t feel slipping by, because you’ll be on the edge of your seat for at least part of it.
The movie is set in current times in western Pennsylvania, where the Dover family joins the Birches for Thanksgiving dinner. Among the family members are Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman), his wife Grace (Maria Bello), and their daughter Anna (Erin Gerasimovich). The Birches include Franklin (Terrence Howard), Nancy (Viola Davis) and their little girl Joy (Kyla Drew Simmons).
After dinner, the two little girls leave the house. They don’t come back, and, after the worried parents call the police, the families become frantic. Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) begins to investigate, and tracks down a vehicle that was at the scene. He surprises the driver, Alex Jones (Paul Dano), a young man who doesn’t seem to have the mental capacity to kidnap two little girls. Besides, the investigative team doesn’t turn up any evidence, so Alex is released after being held for 48 hours. His aunt (Melissa Leo) is waiting for him, and tells him not to talk to the crowd of reporters that wait for him.
Keller, a man of great intensity, decides that the police aren’t doing their jobs, and he will take matters into his own hands. Meanwhile, Loki suspects that another man may be involved. And he continues to go door-to-door to track down leads while the ever-more-desperate Keller considers more extreme measures that he doesn’t discuss with the rest of his family or the grief-stricken Birches.
A lot of the movie is based on circumstantial evidence and something that Alex may (or may not) have spoken to Keller during an encounter that ends in violence. Keller turns to drinking, which he hasn’t done in years. And Loki continues his investigation that leads him down rabbit holes that lead to some bizarre discoveries and yet more rabbit holes.
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The unforgettable characters are brought to life by an all-star cast. Gyllenhaal is particularly noteworthy as a lonely detective who struggles with some personal issues as he tries to solve the case.
Once you’re presented with the pieces of this gripping puzzler, you’ll see how they fit together. You may want to see this again, and you also may want to listen for this title to be mentioned when awards season rolls around.