Villeneuve weaves his mystery like a reimagining of the West Memphis Three case by way of “Zodiac,” “Seven,” and “Silence of the Lambs.”
Review by David Feltman
Canadian director Denis Villeneuve aims for a modern crime thriller in “Prisoners” while fostering a soft spot for old school noir conventions. Jake Gyllenhaal plays the paradoxically named Detective Loki, a man that’s hopelessly mired in chaos rather than provoking or reveling in it. Gyllenhaal is a rumpled hard-boiled dick with a slouching posture to affect the illusion of a paunch and ravaged by nervous ticks. If it weren’t for the tattoos, he could just as easily blended in with the cast of “Double Indemnity” or “The Big Sleep.”
The story circles around the abduction of two young girls and the mentally challenged young man (Paul Dano) accused of the crime. Villeneuve weaves his mystery like a reimagining of the West Memphis Three case by way of “Zodiac,” “Seven” and “Silence of the Lambs.” The influence of David Fincher, especially his knack for gritty and labyrinthine plots, cannot be overstated. Unfortunately, Villeneuve isn’t as skilled a storyteller as Fincher, and the two-and-a-half hour tale is woefully uneven as a result. The director is unable to develop both characters and the whodunit plot simultaneously, instead focusing the first half of the film on the former and the second half on the later.
Luckily Villeneuve has a stellar cast to back him up, especially in Hugh Jackman as the father of one of the abducted girls. Jackman’s wild-eyed desperation is the emotional center of the movie, easily overpowering Terrence Howard who serves as a generally impotent voice of reason. The early sections of the film seem to unfurl a multitude of loose ends and red herrings, but steadily and slowly (too slowly really) writer Aaron Guzikowski ties everything neatly together.
The third act starts off creepy and action packed, imbuing a small shit box of a house with eerie Tartarus-like imagery. But by then the film has created so many twists and subplots to resolve that it struggles and slogs under its own weight. This is a story in need of an intermission or perhaps just better suited as a mini-series rather than a feature film. Villeneuve peppers in some unexpected laughs and scares to break up the monotony of the otherwise stone faced drama, but it’s not quite enough to cure the runtime fatigue. Despite it’s lethal length and uneven execution, “Prisoners” is still a fun thriller. Just make sure you drop by the restroom before the movie starts.