It’s bizarre that Prisoners wasn’t a bigger hit last year. It was critically acclaimed, then later appeared on numerous Best Of lists, and even my nana liked it. The star power of Wolverine couldn’t even draw folks into theaters, where it made only $60 million domestically against its $46 million budget. It’s less than stellar financial performance may have a lot to do with its difficult subject matter, which descends into some truly dark territory. Escapism, this is not. Hopefully more people check it out now that it’s available on home video. Hit the jump for my review of the Warner Bros.’ Prisoners Blu-ray.
Prisoners asks what boundaries a parent would cross to protect their loved ones. We’ve seen vigilante movies before, but not quite as honest and brooding as this. On Thanksgiving evening in a cold and damp rural town, Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman), a protective father and survivalist, and his wife (Maria Bello), head over to the Birches (Terrence Howard, Viola Davis) home for dinner. During the post-meal festivities, the couples’ young daughters go outside to play and when they don’t come back in, the families begin to panic.
The search bleeds into the next day, with the police and neighborhood on alert. The only lead is a trashy RV that was spotted near the scene of the alleged abduction. This vehicle is located and the sadly-named Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) arrives to find anxious, mentally handicapped suspect, Alex Jones (Paul Dano). Alex swears he never took the girls, he doesn’t even seem to understand what’s going on. Not only that, he has the mental capacity of a 10-year-old, so how could he make two young girls disappear without a trace?
With nothing to charge him with, the police release Jones into the custody of his elderly, compassionate aunt, Holly Jones (Melissa Leo). Dover’s fearful impatience causes him to clash with Loki, until his anxiety leads him to make a violent decision from which he can never morally recover from. I’m not a big fan of Jackman, but I can’t deny how intense he is in the role of Dover. He boils over with fatherly rage until his frustration with the police erupts into violent desperation. It’s a draining performance to watch and Jackman physically devolves throughout the film as his anguish escalates.
At one point in the film, the focus very subtly shifts to Loki, which I think is a terrible name choice. With the popularity of the Marvel films, most casual movie goers are going to associate him with that Loki. And why would you name a tenacious, enigmatic detective hero after the god of mischief? Anyways, name choice aside Gyllenhaal is incredible in this role. His blinking tic, his freemason pinky ring, his barely seen tattoos – all of these elements culminate in an astounding amount of characterization without knowing anything about the bastard at all. He mentions once he’d been in a boys home, that’s all we have on him. It’s obvious he’s got some demons of his own, which could explain why he’s so consumed with finding out other people’s. In my book it’s the most fascinating performance of the year.
While Dover is driven by pure emotion, Loki is much more thoughtful – he wants to figure things out before he reacts. It’s a hypnotic dichotomy to watch, y’know? Like my heart wants to roll with Dover while my brain wants to saddle up with Loki.
Prisoners is a movie about trauma, sin, and faith. These themes are addressed within a sincerely bleak and unnerving atmosphere as director Denis Villeneuve (Incendies) presents an honest account of the emotional toll the abductions take on families and police alike. He masterfully controls this tone throughout, knowing when to tighten the vise and when to ease up. I’m not a parent myself, but I can imagine that a child abduction is a parent’s worst fucking nightmare. So perhaps casual moviegoers looking for some Hollywood escapism should avoid Prisoners. Anyone looking for an honest, pulpy, dark piece of filmmaking should give it a shot though.
Warner Bros. presents Prisoners in 1.85:1 widescreen in 1080p HD. Roger Deakins DP’d the shit outta this movie, so WB knew they had better deliver a strong transfer, which thankfully they did. Colors are lifelike, edges are clear and crisp, and black levels are tight as hell. No sign of banding or any other blemishes. The 5.1 surround track is subtle and absorbing.
As far as special features go, I haven’t been impressed with a WB new release in a while. They all have the same drab menu with the same uninspired icons. Prisoners only has two features: one a three minute glorified promo labeled as “Every Moment Matters.” This consists of mainly clips from the film cut with Jackman and Gyllenhaal talking about intense the movie is.
The other feature is pretty good. “Powerful Performances” is about 10 minutes long and features the whole main cast and director Villeneuve discussing the characters of the film.
I thought Prisoners was one of 2013′s best films. It deserves a heftier Blu-ray package, but at least the transfer is terrific.