When children are kidnapped, everyone becomes a prisoner. Local media create sensationalism to lure in surrounding populace and lock them into a cycle of news. Families become prisoners of fear, self regret, blame or worse. Authorities latch onto leads, captives of the possibilities. Of course, for the victims themselves, nothing more needs said.
Prisoners goal is to explore all of them. A father enraged by what he sees as a law enforcement failure. The smiling perpetrator who refuses to speak. A twitching detective with a tinge of distrust. This community rocked by sudden absence of two of their own.
The film never questions methodology; Prisoners job is the reveal of information, done cautiously with calculated zooms and propelled with accelerated edits. Through its characters, including a vengeful father, the story arc takes hold with riveting misdirection or dangling questions. Heightened tension is released in a panic and even in a daze where necessary, built carefully with mood.
Embedded in Prisoners is a question of condemnation, how quick we are to judge those who have not committed a crime but exist in the case as suspects. Aaron Guzikowski’s script crafts Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) as an emotionally compulsive parent who swears he has the culprit, utilizing cringe-inducing measures to extract information from a mentally stunted 20-something.
As his opposite (even opposition), Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) internalizes his fears about the abductions and the potential realities. This young detective thrashes his authority figures for their blatant judgmental errors, snapping when events close down around him. His performance carries an undercurrent of arrogance, but with a sense of purposeful motive as to better read those involved.
Key to thematic success is an avoidance of exploitation. Prisoners embeds this claustrophobic world where participants believe they’re alone without using the children as bait. Cinematically, they remain off screen, creating enthralling dramatic pressure as the audience is suffocated on their potential whereabouts.
Certain elements are uncomfortably grisly if driven by raw, furious indignation. Paul Dano is a stand out in a film overflowing with mesmerizing acting displays, playing an accused who is tortured for (possible) knowledge as to the girl’s location. Dover’s actions toward Dano are distressing, and central to Prisoners’ theme exploration. That becomes central to Prisoners’ goal, a guarded application of agonizing scenes which exist to serve narrative motions and force an audience to question how they react under duress, no matter their perspective.
Morose cinematography dries up blues and layers them onto the images for dour scenery. Flesh tones carry generalized flatness to suit the material, with some scenes brandishing hues appropriate to the lighting conditions. One specific sequence is coated in pinks reflecting from curtains and the color shift is unmistakable.
Digital source material is meticulously clean with an exception set aside for the slimmest glimmering of noise spread around the backdrops. Most will find it imperceptible. Warner AVC encoding is invisible and pure, done well for a film over 150 minutes in length. Despite the size, there are no errant decisions made to dampen the quality.
Crucial to the film are generous black levels which portray thinly lit interiors or nighttime views with dominating force. Shadow detail is shown appreciation, but the depth of the blacks are show stopping and perfect. As the film draws to a close, an environment near total darkness is introduced with no loss to intensity.
Minor instances of focal softening are apparent, including a lingering shot of Maria Bello late. All others are rendered exquisitely, with demanding fidelity and facial definition on display. Close-ups are natural as they deliver a clinic on resolution potency. Medium shots prove equal, resolving minuscule stitches on couches or clothing. Despite never carrying saturation of note, Prisoners remains a visual keeper.
Prisoners is a film of ambiance, opening on a quiet forest with birds and insects calling. Rain effects douse the piece in available surround speaker activity. Most of these are total downpours with aggression applied to enhance the envelopment of characters.
Gun shots are few and accentuated for volume effect. Prisoners’ reserved design is broken with piercing highs that act as a shock, a release of sorts to the embedded tension. The effect works and is appreciable.
For a film generating award season buzz, the Blu-ray is deplorably thin on bonuses. Every Moment Matters is a pitiful commercial/featurette and Powerful Performances is 10-minutes spent praising the (deserving) cast.
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