If youíve seen the trailer, youíll probably walk in thinking that youíve also seen this movie before. You know, the movie where a loved one is kidnapped, the cops are of no help, and a relative of the victim goes after the perpetrator(s). Think ďTaken,Ē ďFrantic,Ē ďRansom,Ē ďCommando.Ē But, no, you havenít seen this one. That well-worn premise goes in all sorts of new directions in ďPrisoners.Ē

For one thing, there are two protagonists, both equally involved in solving the crime and setting things straight. Hugh Jackman is Keller Dover, a happy family man whose young daughter (along with a friendís daughter) vanishes after going out to play during a Thanksgiving dinner. Jake Gyllenhaal is Detective Loki, the loner cop with a record of solving every case heís been given, whoís assigned this one.

From their first meeting, these two guys are at odds. Keller thinks that the detective isnít working fast enough and isnít paying attention to obvious clues, while Loki is convinced that Keller is getting in the way of his investigation. In the filmís early stages, itís pretty obvious whoís done the kidnapping. Itís that creepy guy Alex Jones (Paul Dano), the fellow with the IQ of a 10-year-old who was sitting in his RV right outside the house where the girls disappeared, and who is arrested. But hold on. Thereís no proof, and without proof, a suspect can only be held for questioning for a certain amount of time. After all, this lost soul could have just been parked there to take a brief nap. There are certainly no signs of any struggle inside the RV, and the guy has no record. Although there is a moment, when Keller, against the warnings of the detective, starts following Alex, as Alex is out taking his little dog for a ďwalk,Ē that we are assured that heís a bona fide weirdo.

In one of a very impressive series of twists (this is the only one Iíll give away), a desperate Keller, positive that Alex has his daughter hidden away somewhere, takes Alex himself, and hides him away somewhere, ready to inflict all sorts of barbarous punishment on him if he doesnít talk. Suffice it to say, he doesnít talk, and the film, under the tense direction of Denis Villeneuve (ďIncendiesĒ), bursts into some sections of pretty darn brutal violence (letís hear it for the make-up people in those spots where we see the aftermath).

But this isnít exactly a vigilante film. Itís more of a cat-and-mouse game in which the players are both good guys, both trying to prove who the bad guy is, albeit working in totally different manners. It features a slightly over-the-top performance from the grieving and angry and fiery Jackman, and a strangely and well done underplayed one from Gyllenhaal, whose character has a nicely subtle air of mystery around him, and whose feelings are sometimes revealed through his constant display of nervous blinking tics. Itís a film thatís filled with everyday normal people who are visibly upset, who are playing out a story thatís shocking and nerve-racking, but is something you canít take your eyes away from as that negative energy ebbs and flows.

All of this intensity is pushed along by a grim music score thatís often only made up of low notes that are held out for long stretches. Itís a film that has a perfect title, because in the end, itís very clear that every character is a prisoner of his or her own doing. And speaking of endings, this has got one very cool one.

Ed Symkus covers movies for More Content Now.


Written by Aaron Guzikowski; directed by Denis Villeneuve

With Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Terrence Howard, Maria Bello, Viola Davis, Paul Dano

Rated R