Prisoners is the story of a father, Keller Dover, played by Hugh Jackman, searching for his daughter and her friend, who have gone missing on Thanksgiving day. Investigating the case is Detective Loki, played by Jake Gyllenhaal. The film follows the two men as they go to greater and greater lengths to find the missing girls. As Detective Loki dives deeper into the case, he must also reign in Dover, who begins a vigilante search for the girls. As the film continues the mystery unravels itself with plenty of fascinating twists and turns. The film is like Taken meets Zodiac.
Paired with the ever talented Roger Deakins (who also worked with Villeneuve on Sicario and Blade Runner 2049), the film is beautifully shot. While it’s not flashy, Deakins’ use of light and shadow creates an atmosphere that draws the viewer in. Some shots are nearly totally dark, save for small beams of light illuminating the subject. The lighting all feels very natural- no great differentiation in saturated colors. Instead, Deakins use a grounded style that makes for a “realistic” feeling to the dreary Pennsylvania landscape, homes and offices that highlights the most beautiful and brutal aspects of the environments we find ourselves in every day. Of course, this approach to drawing out interesting lighting from our everyday surroundings also plays into the themes of the film- what lies just beneath the surface of suburbia is very dark. The “every day” world is much more complicated than it can seem.
Each of us has people in our lives who we say we would do anything for. Prisoners asks us if we truly mean that. Dover, in his frontier justice hunt for his daughter, resorts to horrible methods of torture. Yet he does what he does because he believes it is the only way to save his daughter, to protect what he loves most. The film asks us to question: is torture ever acceptable? Would we be able or willing to do what Dover does? Prisoners forces us to ask these questions and to see the reality of what torture is and where it comes from.
Viewers who enjoy Prisoners may also enjoy Zodiac and the HBO miniseries True Detective.