You sometimes—if you’re a very, very frequent moviegoer, like The Boy and I—meander from disappointment to mediocrity and go for surprisingly long stretches without seeing anything really good.
I mean, if you’re careful, I think you could probably see 50 really fine movies in the theater in a year. But if you’re into the triple-digits, as we are, you’re going to have a lot of misses among the hits. Especially if, like The Boy, your objective is about going to the movies than seeing something in particular. (Like me, The Boy enjoys the focus and relative solitude of the movies, only in spades. I once invited a friend of his to come with us, and he uninvited him, saying “Movies aren’t really a social thing for me.”)
I’ve created a monster. Yes. But he’s a monster with good taste and a keen eye for the good and bad in cinema. This, ultimately, is the point: To view movies with an eye toward the art, rather than as just a passive experience.
So after our recent disappointments, The Boy proclaimed, “I want to see a good movie.” (He hasn’t seen Clerks yet, so he doesn’t get why that amuses me.) But, you know, post-Summer/pre-Oscar doldrums, so there aren’t a lot of options.
This movie, Prisoners, had amazing buzz, and we’d somehow missed it when it was local, so I hauled us down to Pasadena and, yeah, this is a gem. Written by unknown-to-me Aaron Guzikowski and directed by Denis Vilanueeve (who directed the contrived Incendies), this is a complex film that doesn’t sell out its basic role of telling an entertaining story.
Which is damn good, because it’s two-and-a-half hours long.
This is the story of the Dovers (Hugh Jackman, Maria Bello) and the Birches (Terence Howard, Viola Davis) who are good friends whose children are kidnapped. On the case is Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) who quickly finds a connection at the home of Holly Jones (Melissa Leo) and her simple nephew Alex (Paul Dano).
The nephew is targeted early on but released by Gyllenhaal, who is convinced that he’s as simple as he appears. But Jackman hears the boy taunting him as he’s released and decides to take the law into his own hands.
This movie is nearly as brutal and contrived as Incendies though it works a lot better because the twists and turns of the convoluted plot manage to both surprise and straighten out the story (i.e., when you get the whole picture, it’s not really that complicated), and because there are frequent suspense and even some action scenes.
This gives a framework for some really powerful acting, coming from a place that’s more easily relatable. How far would you go to save your child? Jackman is convincing in his role, and really the lead, here.
Lotta red herrings which, come to think of it, reminds me of Incendies, too.
Did I mention it’s brutal? Yeah, it’s brutal. And it dares you to both empathize with Jackman as he descends into his darkest place and dares you not to, as we learn what happens to the kidnapped children.
It veers away from two easy plot pitfalls: Painting Jackman as a cartoon because he loves guns and Jesus, and he’s a survivalist, and bringing in race (since the Birches are black). The only real weakness I saw was that Jackman’s faith in God seemed superficial, like a religious person wouldn’t look to God in times of real trouble—or deliberately turn away.
It kind of felt like the people involved didn’t get that about the religious. Not having a sense of what God is for, they didn’t bring any depth to that aspect of the role. But that’s so much better than doing it badly, I didn’t mind too much.
So, yes, we loved it. It was a good antidote to the wan sort of directionless films we’d been seeing, and this was both tight (despite the length) and deep.
Did I mention it’s brutal, though? Yeah. It is. If you’re the squeamish type, you might want to steer clear.