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Prisoners (2013)

Warner Home Video
Blu-ray Disc Released: 12/17/2013

All Ratings out of


Review by Mike Long, Posted on 12/15/2013

The term “thriller” gets thrown around a lot when movies are being discussed, but it doesn’t seem to have a concrete definition. In the mid-part of the 20th century, a thriller was typically a movie which involved an ordinary person who found themselves in a deadly situation. In early 90s, after The Silence of the Lambs made a splash at the Oscars, “thriller” suddenly became a euphemism which the studios embraced when they were attempting to class up a horror movie. In any event, a true thriller must find a way to balance drama and, well, the thrills. For the movie to work, we have to get to know the characters and actually worry when they are in peril. A non-stop action movie wouldn’t work (see the Japanese film Versus). The thriller Prisoners provides drama and thrills and is in search for a sense of balance.

Prisoners opens on Thanksgiving Day, and we see Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) and his family – Grace (Maria Bello), Ralph (Dylan Minnette), and Anna (Erin Gerasimovich) – visit The Birch’s – Franklin (Terrence Howard), Nancy (Viola Davis), Eliza (Zoe Soul), and Joy (Kyla Drew Simmons) – for dinner. Following the meal, Anna and Joy ask to go for a walk – from which they don’t return. Keller and Franklin frantically search the neighborhood and Police Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) is called in to cover the case. A suspect, Alex Jones (Paul Dano), is immediately apprehended, but there’s no evidence to prove that he was involved in the disappearance. While Loki follows some leads which unearth bizarre clues, Keller decides to take justice into his own hands. As the hours that the girls are gone tick by, both men come closer to snapping.

While Keller and Franklin are looking for their children, Prisoners is searching for a theme to which it wants to stick. The movie can't decide if it's a drama with thriller elements or a thriller with dramatic elements. We certainly get both of these here, but not in quantities which can qualify the film in either direction. It's fine that the movie wants to explore the effect which the events have the families, but it goes too far in this direction at times, making the film quite maudlin. (This also plays with the reality of the film, as the children have only been missing for a short time before Grace begins to act as if they've been gone for months.) One thing's for sure, Hugh Jackman chews the scenery and some of his scenes come off an attempt to be an Oscar worthy drama. Yet, the movie is also a police-procedural mystery, as we follow Detective Loki on his search for the girls. The movie gets somewhat bogged down here as well. Director Denis Villeneuve is Canadian, but he gives the film to kind of slow-burn feel which we get from many European films. The result -- a film which is interesting, but isn't all that thrilling.

The script by Aaron Guzikowski also introduces some issues. In some respects, the movie raises more questions than it answers. Loki, with his tattoos and slicked-back hair, clearly has the potential to be an intriguing character, but we never learn any of his backstory. Guzikowski's intention is to take the standard kidnapping film and super-size it, which he does quite well, as we get many twists and turns. However, the film bites off more than it can chew at times and we feel every bit of the 2 1/2 hour running time. The subplots and red herrings come and go and often pull focus from the primary story. Prisoners is one of those movies where if I were to tell you the plot, complete with dead ends, it would probably be more interesting than sitting and watching it.

Overall, Prisoners isn't a bad movie, it's simply a film whose parts don't add up. On one end of the spectrum, we have Jackman's over-the-top performance, while at the other end, we have Paul Dano, who sounds like Andy Samberg's "Shy Ronnie" character form Saturday Night Live. The biggest issue with Prisoners is that it's a "wait a minute" movie, which means that when it's over you say, "Wait a minute," as you realize that Loki, who was supposed to be a great detective missed a giant clue midway through the film which could have wrapped things up much faster. Also, there's a lapse in logic in the final act. Prisoners is certainly worth a rental, but don't watch it alone, as you'll need a companion with which to discuss the film's pitfalls.

Prisoners has Pennsylvania plates in a Georgia setting on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Warner Home Video. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 20 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no notable grain and no defects from the source material. The colors are somewhat muted, but still look fine. The image is never overly dark or bright. The level of detail is good, although a few shots are soft. The image's depth is good as well. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 3.8 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. This is one of those mixes which contains mostly natural, calm sounds, which makes the stereo and surround effects, such as those which come from street noises, all the more evident. We also get some nice subwoofer effects during the finale.

The Prisoners Blu-ray Disc contains only two extras. "Every Moment Matters" (3 minutes) is a brief featurette which is dominated by clips from the movie. Outside of that, we get Jackman, Gyllenhaal, and members of the creative team commenting on the story. "Powerful Performances" (9 minutes) focuses on the cast. It contains comments from the actors, who give overviews of their characters and their performances.

Review Copyright 2013 by Mike Long