Red Herrings in the Sunset; ‘Prisoners’ (2013).

26 Sep

Prisoners posterAt what point exactly did Jake Gyllenhaal become so goddamn old? Gone are the days where he’d either play the resourceful son (The Day After Tomorrow), an impressionable young cowboy (Brokeback Mountain), or a hot soldier lying around in his underpants (Jarhead). As an oily-haired cop literally exuding a negative backstory in French director Denis Villeneuve’s American début, Prisoners, he has finally joined the elders club, along with co-star Hugh Jackman, who let’s face it, was old before his time when we first met him in X-Men.

Jackman is a deeply religious and devoted father that likes to shoot deer; Gyllenhaal is a quiet, softly-spoken cop with a facial tic. Their paths cross when the former’s kid (and her equally adorable friend) go missing during a Thanksgiving thunderstorm, and what follows is a gripping crime drama full of plot twists, some supremely tense scenes and a veritable ocean of red herrings.

Prisoners fails to break even a square inch of new ground, but in digging up the long-established tropes of the suspenseful thriller it manages to strike gold. Yes, every single character is a stereotype, and yes the whole affair peddles the tired ‘family is important’ message, but Aaron Guzikowski’s clever script manages to keep us guessing before finally revealing the big ‘gotcha!’ moment, which even I didn’t predict.

A major flaw comes in the form of a minor – one of the abducted kids, Erin Gerasimovich, displays such wooden acting that in her handful of scenes you’re kind of glad she’s kidnapped and out of the action. On the other hand, both Jackman and Gyllenhaal turn in decent performances. Actually, because Jackman plays a white drunk with a missing kid though, he’s virtually guaranteed an Oscar nomination.

Although the film’s 153-minute runtime could have done with a half-hour haircut, Prisoners cherry picks the highlights from many’s a dramatic thriller that came before it to make for riveting viewing. Unfortunately, it’s also bursting with the genre’s tired clichés and the curtains are only drawn following an irritatingly derivative CSI-esque final act. Still, Hollywood needs to know that dialogue-driven dramas can still sell tickets, so check it out.

Simon says: bring a picnic.

[Written for GCN]

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