“Prisoners” is a difficult film to perceive. It feels clueless of its true aspiration, which is, clearly: to showcase a thriller in its purest sense–an audiovisual artifice designed to enthrall audiences, and, in great efforts of persuasion, make them forget of what schlock is at its core. Of this purpose, the film serves well. While not all, plenty of its moments provoke sheer exhilaration; until that drained denouement in which the film morphs from a nihilistic (if sufficiently allegoric) Oscar-bait, to a mere portrait (a hideous one at that) of human desperation, violence and hypocrisy. In whichever form, the film doesn’t triumph.
If anything else, it depicts imprisonment to different things, in different ways and for different reasons. Hugh Jackman, in a heavy-handed portrayal of a man with an equally heavy-handed set of spiritual convictions, is fettered to his humanity . “Doubt is not a pleasant condition,” tells Voltaire, but imagine how unpleasant certainty can be. He’s so sure that the mentally-deprived suspect (played by Paul Dano), having the approximate I.Q. of a ten year-old, did the crime that he takes matters to his own hands. Jake Gyllenhaal (whose subtle touch of eye-tics, and common police dialogue–”‘sir, I need you to calm down”–instill life to his character) plays a cop shackled by his past.
Viola Davis is simply bound to essentially repeat her Oscar-nominated performance in “Doubt.”
There’s an interesting shot at the very beginning of the film wherein a solemn intonation of the Lord’s prayer is juxtaposed with the killing of an animal. This captures the audience quick, and in fairness to director Denis Villenueve, keeps its hold tight (adorned by the gorgeous Roger Deakins cinematography, the film exudes a troubling sense of dread, as if something inexorable is happening, say, the Revelation, theorized from the film’s chalky clouds, grim rainfalls, and drained colors, as if the world is merely God’s own sphere-shaped purgatory, and all we can look forward to is judgement) but only until that dreadful part of the film where it essentially dumps its thematic and allegoric possibilities. This leads to the devil’s denouement, the cruel unfolding of different mysteries, including the film’s truest aspiration, which is, even more clearly now: to attest of Hollywood’s gradual, and thus painful, desolation as promoter art.
RATING: 2 stars (out of 4)