Friday, September 20, 2013

Let Me Out of This Prison(ers)


You May Feel Like One at “Prisoners”

By Skip Sheffield

“Prisoners” makes the viewer feel like one. This muddled, thoroughly unpleasant film is a showcase for actor Hugh Jackman, but this is not the charming, debonair Jackman of Broadway shows and action movies. This is a dour, obsessive, fanatical, survivalist Pennsylvania home builder named Keller Dover in a violent, tense drama directed by French-Canadian Denis Villeneuve (“Incendies”) and written by Aaron Guzilkowski (“Contraband”).
It is Thanksgiving, and the devout Catholic Keller family is sharing dinner with neighbors Franklin (Terrence Howard) and Nancy Birch (Viola Davis) and their children.
In a foreshadowing scene, we see a beat-up RV cruise the neighborhood and park nearby.
The next thing we know, 6-year-old Anna Dover (Erin Gerasimovich) and Joy Birch (Kyla Drew Simmons) are discovered missing, and a frantic search ensues.
We cut to another scene with the RV, and we see some police closing in on the parked vehicle. The man inside inexplicably stomps on the gas and peels out, only to crash into a tree.
The driver is one Alex Jones (Paul Dano), a quiet, dim-witted young man with huge, thick glasses. We are told Alex has the “intelligence of a 10-year-old.” This is one of the many problems I had with Guzilkowski’s twisty, illogical, red herring-strewn plot. I have known many 10-year-olds who are pretty darn intelligent.
Be that as it may, when Keller (Jackman) shows up at the scene he is convinced Alex has kidnapped his daughter and her friend. Keller has all the fire and conviction of a zealot, and when mild-mannered Police Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenthaal) has to let Alex go for lack of evidence, Keller goes ballistic.
That’s all we will say about the plot, except to add if you liked the torture scenes in “Zero Dark 30,” you will love what Keller does to poor, befuddled Alex.
“Prisoners” is quite well-acted all the way around, but other than Jackman, Gyllenthaal and Dano, supporting actors are given short shrift. Terrence Howard and Viola Davis are hardly there. Maria Bello’s character of Keller’s wife Grace is zonked on sleeping pills most of the time, so she might as well not be there. Melissa Leo has a bravura moment as Holly Jones, aunt of Alex, but it comes almost at the end of a two-hour, 40-minute trudge through the dregs of humanity, and it is not pretty.
“Prisoners” may well be remembered at Oscar time, but unless you are masochistic, you might want to pass on this one.

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