Possibly the most overrated and overpraised director working currently is Denis Villeneuve. His work isn’t bad by any stretch of the imagination, but it is held in much higher regard than it ought to be. Arrival may have looked nice and had an intense soundtrack paired with some great performances, but it hasn’t settled well on further thoughts. If anything, Sicario is his strongest piece, outshined greatly by a sequel that ramps up the action and manages to replicate his direction to a great extent. Losing all sense of hope, Prisoners was the last shot I was willing to give Villeneuve when it came to his English language work.
Prisoners is a fine film, a lengthy mystery thriller starring Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal, with a stacked supporting cast that includes Terrence Howard, Viola Davis and personal favourite of mine Paul Dano. With such a strong cast, you can expect incredible performances, and that’s exactly what we receive. Gyllenhaal in particular manages to impress me when he has been unable to do so in every other film I’ve seen him in. His performance here as Detective Loki pairs well with Hugh Jackman’s wild and unkempt role as Keller Dover, a man concerned for his missing son. Taking matters into his own hands, the two race against one another to uncover where his son is.
Definitely relying heavily on its performances the whole way through, Villeneuve manages to slide some impressive direction in here and there. Nothing spectacular, but his camera movement, especially his cinematography, is a lovely addition to the film. It makes up for some incredibly drawn out scenes, with little being left on the cutting room floor by the looks of it. A lengthy piece, one that relies on Jackman’s remarkable execution. He presents the fear of losing a child well, and the expected “stop at nothing” attitude is well rounded, neither distracting nor detracting from a fairly well paced narrative.
One thing that does stop Villeneuve’s Prisoners from being anything more than a highly fictitious and unbelievable story is in fact the actions of Dover. He goes through the expected stages of grief, at times blending them all together in seamless fashion. The only issue with that premise is that we get some rather stupid and unbelievable scenes. Presented with danger, grief and anger around every corner, some of his actions come off as silly and unbelievably strained upon the film. His interactions specifically with Paul Dano’s Alex Jones is particularly useless, near narrative breaking at times.
It’s certainly not the most interesting detective film available, but Prisoners provides us with a nice handful of twists and turns that not even I expected. It’s a shame nothing more comes of it, and its ambiguity throughout falls on the lazier side rather than that of anything effective in storytelling. Villeneuve doesn’t really present anything outlandish, creative or visually exciting, so it’s a true shame that his film faulters to this extent in the cinematography department. It does not, however, detract from a slightly likeable and enjoyable piece of mystery film.