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Film Review: Prisoners

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Prisoners poster4/5

Starring Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal, Prisoners has soared to the top of the US box office and is certainly one of the most harrowing cinematic experiences of this year.

When Keller Dover's (Jackman) young daughter and her friend go missing from their home in small-town America, the police investigation – headed up by Detective Loki (Gyllenhaal) – seems to be making little progress. Dover decides to take matters into his own hands in a desperate attempt to save his daughter. However, it soon becomes clear that he will stop at nothing to get his family back.

Directed by Hollywood-newbie Denis Villeneuve, Prisoners is certainly a powerful piece of cinema and really rather harrowing in many places. Let's begin with the two central performances from Jackman and Gyllenhaal, which are absolutely superb. Jackman's morally-ambiguous and tormented character is powerfully rendered by Jackman, whose face seems to grow more and more drawn and haggard as the film progresses.

Gyllenhaal's turn as the detective with a troubled past was also impressive and it's not an overstatement to say that he gives a career-best performance. The subtleties that he creates in the character, complete with a convincing nervous facial tick, were very engaging to watch and Gyllenhaal has established himself as an actor with significant screen prescence. Placed opposite Jackman, the two really are the major strengths of the film.

The level of tension which is sustained throughout the film is, at times, quite unbearable: just what a thriller should be. Thanks to this, the 153 minute running time never drags, even if the film-makers could have been slightly more economical and shaved fifteen minutes off (even if only for the sake of the audience's nerves). Some brilliantly-conceived sequences kept the action and drama alive as the plot took more twists and turns than a bob-sleigh run.

Aside from this, the film is violent and doesn't shy away from creating some very difficult-to-watch scenes (especially in the torture sequences where Jackman wields a hammer rather disturbingly). Jackman's transformation from the loving father to the desperate and merciless vigilante helped in strengthening the violence depicted: this isn't inconsequential, entertaining violence. You really will wince.

The film's subject matter was, of course, going to be highly emotive but at no point does the film exploit this fact by 'free-wheeling' cinematically: the focus is on the reactions of the parents and authorities, rather than on the predicament of the children themselves.

The supporting cast were fine, although the female characters felt a little under-written and seemed to spend most of their time either crying or under the influence of sleeping pills rather than playing an active part in the drama. Perhaps the biggest problem in the film is its unevenness: yes, the film maintains a high level of dread throughout, but some sequences seemed to lose the tension which kept the audience engaged.

These minor issues aside, Prisoners is a convincing thriller with some performances which are truly outstanding. From the minute it starts to its surprising ending, it grabs you by the throat and never really lets go. A taught and intense experience which may just make you rush home and stick Mamma Mia! in the DVD player...

Prisoners is released nationwide on 27th September




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