Sunday, 29 September 2013


Prisoners is by no means any great shakes as any kind of movie. Aaron Guzikowski's script gets lost in attending to one whim after another, all quite ably handled by the way, and it's only Denis Villeneuve's patient, sensitive directing that melds it all together. But at its heart, Prisoners is pulpy melodrama, and at its best when at its ugliest; there's a lot of ugly on display here, and it's damn good shit. Hugh Jackman's frantic father and Jake Gyllenhaal's police officer battle it out to see which can come across more repellent - Jackman ends up winning by quite some way. And Prisoners gets by on the conflict which it causes in our minds as we realise that this man, who convention dictates ought to receive our sympathy, is a real nasty, passively abusive piece of work, and then on our futile search for an appropriately sympathetic alternative. Guzikowski has created a most favourable panoply of characters - unusually, they don't each represent distinct emotions or motivations from our perspective, but are each imbued with their own complex knit of psychological features. And its covert method of establishing narrative clues as we're busy adjusting to the story's moral and emotional content is very smart. Villeneuve coaxes excellent performances from his cast, none of whom (not even Hugh) overplay their hand (until Melissa Leo drops the ball, alas). He makes some questionable specific directorial choices, though, choosing to cut several scenes shorter than they need to be, and sometimes stymying the film's desire to amply indulge in its pulpiness. And while Roger Deakins' cinematography is typically splendid, Villeneuve does allow the camera to linger a little too often to drink it all in, when a leaner, meaner approach might have been better suited to the material.