Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal in very different ways seek two missing girls, 17 March 2014
"Prisoners" is a splendidly photographed neo-noir film with an excellent feel for place, time and people, graced by solid acting from its well-rounded and chosen cast. It tells the story of two kidnapped girls, not ransomed, but taken so that they can be killed. The father of one girl, Hugh Jackman, himself kidnaps the main suspect, linked to the kidnappings by the camper he was driving. He then tortures him to obtain information, making little headway but some. Meanwhile Gyllenhaal follows police procedures and eventually comes up with some clues too.
The story requires us to accept too low a degree of rationality on the part of all of its major characters, thereby becoming implausible and losing effectiveness. The Jackman character can plan for survival and for torture meticulously, but he cannot communicate with Gyllenhaal without confrontation and without cutting off the conversation when he has critical information. Thatís early in the movie. Later in the movie he simply rushes off when he has even more information, possibly even endangering his daughterís life. Gyllenhaal is supposedly a thorough cop but the story implausibly makes him frustrated by his boss. He also finds a key link purely by the intuition of someone he sees at a candlelight vigil in the neighborhood. He has probable cause for a search warrant after the suspect makes a comment to Jackman, but instead he goes to his house and questions him. Whereís the urgency in that? Jackmanís neighbor, played by Terence Howard, is shown as so weak that heís swayed by both Jackman and his wife. How convenient for the story that is. Even the head person who is leading the kidnappings, for there have been more of them, irrationally is using her retarded "son" to help out. Heís hardly to be trusted with such a matter. There are some coincidences as well, such as when Gyllenhaal is close to discovering the torture scene but is called away. Why doesnít he go back? Why does Jackman persist after that close call? There are so many serial killer movies that itís getting harder and harder to craft an original one without introducing implausible plot points.
In my opinion, the story fell between the two leads, without focusing clearly on one or the other. It begins and ends with a focus on Jackman, but when Gyllenhaal comes in, as he must, his character is such a blank that he diverts our attention from the drama to wondering whatís up with him. Why should that be a central part of a kidnap story? How do his character features, viewed as a subplot, tie into the main plot? This is not clear. Really the same goes for the Jackman character. How many people would behave as he did? Why couldnít he hire some private investigators? When all is said and done, itís a finely-executed movie but with a story that has too many unsatisfactory elements. The script also doesnít develop the characters deeply enough to bring out themes clearly.