"Prisoners," a thriller released Sept. 20, does not sit well with the palate.
Yes, it was suspenseful and intense.
Yes, it was slightly frightening, but excluding that, it was more or less 153 minutes of watching Hugh Jackman torture a mentally handicapped man.
The R-rated film is a crime drama/thriller about a man who will do anything to locate his daughter and her friend who go missing on a moments notice. Pressed for time and feeling like the police are not putting forth their best efforts, Keller Dover (Jackman) takes matters into his own hands. After Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) is forced to release Alex Jones (Paul Dano), Dover kidnaps him and through intense physical and psychological abuse, attempts to get him to talk.
Here's the problem: it is clear from the moment Jones is introduced that he is not fully in charge of his mental capacities. Yes, there are points of supposed lucidity where Jones shows extreme cruelty, such as when he attempts to strangle his aunt's dog. While these scenes are clearly supposed to lessen sympathy for Jones, they do not create an understanding for Dover's actions.
The attempted characterization fails to cast Dover as the average-dad-turned-hero and Jones as the psychotic madman who purposefully withholds useful information. Instead, Dover seems overtly cruel to a man who cannot form a complete sentence.
Compared to other films such as Taken and Flightplan, the lengths that Dover was willing to go to were extreme. Yes, Liam Neeson killed multiple antagonists and Jodie Foster blew up a plane, but neither of the two resorted to systematic, long term brutality on a single person.
Though much of the violence is not even shown onscreen – the audience only hears the sounds of Jones' screams and sees his swollen face – there is enough cruelty to be a turn off. When Dover rigs a sensory-deprivation chamber in an old shower, he douses Jones alternately with freezing or scalding water. When Dover turns the tap, the sound of Jones' screams are enough to stop any heart.
Altogether, the movie is just too realistic to handle. The cinematography of the film creates a world that hits a little too close to home.
The neighborhood that the girls are abducted from looks like many in and around Knoxville with mowed lawns, mailboxes, driveways with basketball hoops set up, swing sets and chain link fences. The inside of the houses seem familiar and welcoming. They appear to be lit with 60-watt bulbs, the furniture looks well-used and they aren't exactly the cleanest.
Also, the lack of special effects – intense lighting, background music or other over-the-top techniques sometimes used in Hollywood – hurt the film. These things can sometimes be used as a distraction for moviegoers when the violence gets too intense. That doesn't happen in "Prisoners." The entire focus of the film rests on the characters. There is only the reality of the film, though many times a distraction would have been welcome.
However, if you can look past the violence, parts of the film are intriguing. There is a complex back story to the kidnappings that keeps the audience guessing until the very end, and for hours later. The plot twists serve to draw the audience deeper into the mystery as they attempt to figure out what is really happening.
Also, though the character's personalities leave something to be desired, the actors' portrayal of them does not. Jackman, Gyllenhall, Dano and the rest of the cast shine in this film. They give a very accurate portrayal of people that are caught in unimaginable circumstances. Through them, the audience is caught up in a terrifying reality, and is forced to look into a part of themselves that they may not be ready to.
The film is also deeply relevant to many issues in society right now, because it questions the morality and integrity of the individual man. The news is filled with topics of war, kidnappings, murder and other legal issues, and this film addresses a key question that many people are asking: Where should we draw the line?
For Dover, there was no line, no limit. His world is black and white. But for the audience, it isn't that clear. There are other factors to consider, things to think about before making a decision. Though it does not do so in the best way, the film truly asks, "How far would you go?"