Quebec director Denis Villeneuve has created an outstanding English-language debut, with “Prisoners”. He has kept his usual sense of threat and panic, so ably shown in “Incendies” and “Polytechnique”, and has brought a new and disturbing dimension to the police procedural and revenge genre.
The Dover and Birch families get together for Thanksgiving. Their two young daughters go missing. The police investigate.
Early on, there are portents. Crosses, the Lord’s Prayer and organ music provide spiritual undercurrents and the idea of disturbance.
One of the aspects of Villeneuve’s work that I love is his ability to take familiar Catholic themes and make real goals of doom and possible redemption.
There is one scene in which a character peeps through a peephole that seems like an eye reaching out of the confessional. Roger Deakins’ cinematography matches Villeneuve’s distinctive vision.
The script by Aaron Guzikowski is terrific. Despite a 153-minute running time, nothing feels wasted, although it’s all painful to watch.
It’s as if a new genre, fusing Greek tragedy, police procedure and family drama is being created here.
High Jackman is always the star as the survivalist dad bent on finding control in a situation that puts him out of his depth.
Jake Gyllenhaal is fantastic as the policeman.
But it’s an ensemble cast and it’s impossible to single out Maria Bello, Viola Davis, Terrence Howard, Paul Dano or Melissa Leo as all are very impressive indeed.
Johann Johannsson’s music keeps the right sense of religion and danger going throughout. Even the popular tunes fit in beautifully.
Everyone at the Stratford East Picturehouse was rapt with attention throughout. The guy who had to go to the toilet got clucked at by the three rows behind him.
Honestly, it’s that engrossing.
I can’t say much more without giving out key plot twists and I have a no spoilers policy. Suffice it to say that there are plenty of plot twists and turns.
Please, Hollywood, give Denis Villeneuve lots of money and carte blanche to make whatever he wants. On this form, he has the capacity to make the authoritative post 9/11 drama.
With his control, emotion and distinctive sense of Quebec identity, “Prisoners” is a terrific movie. The story demonstrates how we are all imprisoned by our own ideas and experiences. It’s compelling and leaves the viewer thoroughly entertained, but with loads to think about too.