Prisoners, while not a crime thriller on par with the likes of The Departed or Pulp Fiction, was probably worth the eight dollars I spent to see it at the local Laemmle Theater. It was exciting, undeniably well-acted, and at times even managed to invoke some genuine emotion. However, throw in the three dollars I spent on a soda at the refreshment counter, and my opinion is conflicted.
The film’s plot is pretty generic: Two young girls are mysteriously kidnapped, and one of the fathers (played by Hugh Jackman) takes the main suspect hostage. However, the story gets complicated fast, as numerous twists, turns, and false alarms can easily befuddle the most astute audience members. Over the course of two and a half hours, some might even feel prisoners themselves in a never-ending episode of CSI.
Thankfully, Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal (who plays the lead detective) both deliver solid performances that make the film worthwhile. Jackman effectively portrays a devoted father who will scour the earth to find his little girl. In fact, I thought at one point he might go Wolverine on us and grow claws in a fit of anger.
On this note, I have to say I was very disappointed with the performance of Terrence Howard, who usually is a decent actor. Portraying the other father in the film, he comes across as timid, useless, and downright pathetic when compared to Jackman’s fiery performance.
Jake Gyllenhaal, who seems to enjoy playing introspective, conflicted characters (i.e. Jarhead, Zodiac, Rendition) thrives in this film. He brilliantly conveys his character’s sense of frustration and harrowing guilt following a series of missed leads. While maybe not as slick as Al Pacino in Serpico, Gyllenhaal definitely manages to avoid the horribly overused Hollywood cliché of the troubled detective.
Although blessed with a talented lead cast and an intriguing plot, Prisoners is too convoluted and unpolished to be a memorable film. It could have been much stronger if it had not been burdened with the dual plot lines of Jackman kidnapping the lead suspect and Gyllenhaal struggling to solve the case. However, not every movie can become a stalwart at the Academy Awards or make an AFI top 100 list, so I say go ahead and enjoy Prisoners.