The most complex thing to think about the film Prisoners is why any of the Oscar nominated or recognisably 'serious' actors agreed to be in it in the first place. While it is clearly meant to be, judging by the blind critical reaction, a tense, thought provoking, violent and difficult film, I found it to be too dreary, too melodramatic, too obvious and, most importantly, too long.
There are few films that can, successfully, keep me gripped for 2hrs35min. JFK is one and that other Gyllenhaal detective drama Zodiac is another but what they had, that Prisoners forgot, was a complex, gripping detective narrative with possibly many solutions and actual characters. It is in these two areas that Prisoners woefully falls short.
Focussing, for the moment, on the little good in the film, Prisoners is very well shot by seasoned director of photography, Roger Deakins and not badly played by the starry, Oscar grabby cast, not that they're given a whole lot to work with.
That being said, my first problem with the kidnapping plot is that it was obvious. If you, like my wife and I, indulge your silly brain cells every week by watching 45min detective procedurals like The Mentalist, Castle, Elementary, White Collar or whatever, then you will see the ending of the film coming a mile away. This is because, the way it was set up and as it continued to play out, there was only a handful of ways it could play out. Now, I'm sure, for those not so used to the simple twists and turns of evening TV, Prisoners may have been a gripping whodunit but, I am sorry, if you've read any, even mildly, detective orientated books or watched a Murder She Wrote then you'll know the plot, like I did, 45mins in and will have to sit there for another 1hr and 45mins waiting for surly, grumpy, tattooed Jake Gyllenhaal to work it out too. Which he eventually does but even his, supposedly brilliant, 'never lost a case' detective is beaten to the punch by 'very angry indeed' Hugh Jackman.
Gyllenhaal's detective is supposed, I am guessing, to be a tortured, dogged genius but we never see any evidence of him really doing anything insightful or perceptive, he's not a fantastic puzzle solver, good with people particularly and there doesn't appear to be a great intellect pounding away inside his furrow browed, slicked back haired head. It struck me as one of those characters him and the director talked endlessly about but forgot to put any of the motivations into the actual script. We are told in dialogue he is brilliant and we are just meant to take it as read, despite the fact that all he does is mundane and routine investigation. Yes he has tattoos, a grumpy face and spends thanksgiving alone in Chinese restaurants but apart from that, we have no idea what makes him tick, oh and his superiors and the police around him are also woefully inept.
Jackman is a survivalist, all American, possible religious nut who is also an alcoholic with an atrociously bad temper bubbling underneath a, not very interesting, surface. I was never sure if we were meant to side with him so that, we the audience, were complicit in his violent actions later on but seeing as I didn't really like him from the get go and seeing as I suspected that probably Paul Dano's massively red herring probably wasn't the bad guy (just by watching the trailer) that didn't really work for me. I actually found his reaction a little unrealistic and over the top but then I also found Paul Dano's character as annoyingly, idiotically stubborn as Jackman found him. Mind of a 10 year old or not, traumatised or not, I didn't buy for one second he'd stay silent for as long as he does, when he had no problem talking to Gyllenhaal's character for an apparent 10hr interrogation (we're told and see on video).
Maria Bello, Viola Davis & Terrence Howard are all shockingly underused and irrelevant (mostly) and poor Melissa Leo is left playing, what slides very close to being, a comical old grandma part. Complete with bad clothes, huge glasses and a terrible wig.
I am, personally, amazed that this film got made the way it did at all and, secondly, amazed that people love it so much. It's not that it's a bad film. It's fine. It just felt very obvious, mundane, grim and too long.
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