This is what a “dad movie” looks like to someone who never had a father. It’s a rainsoaked examination of whether rageful misery can be more poetic and productive than sadness.
Prisoners is the kind of film I thought only South Korea was bothering with these days. I’m glad to be wrong. I’m glad people are still interested in savage R-rated thrillers. I’m glad Hugh Jackman can portray a grim antihero, because he sure as hell wasn’t doing that in Wolverine earlier this year. I don’t know what that movie was supposed to be… but it ended up lameass tripe sold on a bill of good looks and fanboyish goodwill.
The idiosyncrasies of Jake Gyllenhaal’s performance as Detective Loki has garnered a lot of attention, not so much for its quirkiness but because he sticks his landing. The character is more interesting for his efforts, like when you happen upon an interesting person in the real world: evidence of a contradictory life bursts from the seams of their self-presentation, but not in a way you fully understand. When stuff like this happens in a Hollywood movie people rush to assign it labels like “Oscar-worthy performance.” But what they really mean to say is “cool, Jake Gyllenhaal wasn’t bland as hell.”
You don’t get to know Detective Loki by the end of the movie. In fact you know precious little about any of the characters at all. You experience their anger and pain for two and a half hours and you like it because it feels familiar. You like it because it exploits your paranoia about how ugly and hateful the world can be. The movie is titled Prisoners because its plot deals with child abduction, but the movie is about brutish, miserable men: a condition no police investigation is likely to remediate, a condition without escape.