For a film that is over two and a half hours long, there are so many plot holes in ‘Prisoners’ I’m almost tempted to wish that it was three hours in length, and then again, maybe I just wish that it had never been made. Watching the film in the first place took inner strength, since the subject matter is one that I have a very strong reaction to, but I expected to at least be rewarded with a thought provoking film that tested my inner calm but delivered a strong impact.
Instead, I was left with confusion, frustration and indifference.
Honestly, it was like screenwriter Aaron Guzikowski and director Denis Villeneuve thought that if you throw enough unnecessary details into a pot and stir them, the audience won’t notice the plot holes because they’ll be as distracted as Detective Loki by a bunch of stuff that makes no sense and means absolutely nothing.
The premise of ‘Prisoners’ is a relatively simple one. The Dover’s and the Birch’s are neighbors and friends. They hang out a lot, apparently. One day, while they are socializing at the Birch residence, their young daughters leave to find a lost whistle and wind up missing. They search to no avail and then the police are brought in and despite having a lead, there is nothing solid and no real evidence that they can get their hands on and Keller Dover soon feels the need to take matters into his own hand. In a move that many fathers in this position would contemplate but never actually act out, Keller kidnaps the prime suspect, locks him in an abandoned building, and tortures him for answers he won’t divulge. Keller just KNOWS that this young man (who is obviously mentally handicapped) has the answers to where these little girls are and so he continues to beat and torture him despite getting nothing out of him. The Birch family becomes involved, but they remain at a distance (or at least as much as possible). In the meantime, Detective Loki becomes consumed with unraveling the mystery of these vanished girls and follows up on the few leads he gets only to find himself preoccupied by the suspicious activity of Keller himself.
As the days tick by, the prospect of finding these girls alive grows slim.
I have SO MANY issues with this film that discussing them would almost take an entire day, but I’ll try and just sputter. It really all boils down to a film about complete incompetence. First off, these parents are kind of dense. You let your little girls leave the house to wander down the street in search of a whistle, and despite the fact that you make it clear you never let them wander off alone you forget they ever left until hours have gone by, even with the knowledge of a creepy van on the street? That doesn’t make sense to me at all. Be attentive! Next, Loki seems to be the ONLY person on the police team to be remotely interested in seeing these girls reunited with their families. Despite having a suspect, they drop the ball and don’t even tail him, allowing him to be kidnapped and have the police be none the wiser. Next, you have a suspect with a creepy van parked outside of his Aunt’s home, and she admits that he does that all the time, and yet you don’t investigate her house or her property for clues? How is that? Shouldn’t that have been the FIRST thing you did, even if you didn’t suspect her of anything? Then you have Keller, who does what every man in that situation is thinking, and yet you allow yourself to become a complete monster by brutally assaulting a man who is three shades away from going full retard? I mean, how does that solve anything? This is an issue with me because you basically have a man beating on a child to get answers as to what he supposedly did with a child. Maybe this is the moral dilemma we are supposed to face, but the film seems so uninterested in making Keller anything more than the savior of his children.
Incompetence, both in character and in filmmaking.
But let’s get into that incompetent filmmaking for a minute. What about all those ‘details’ that are all over the place? You can spin your wheels all you want and color in every surface and draw those mazes all over the place, but at the end of the day it all feels like a waste of time. Let’s have this creepy guy buy kid’s clothes and sneak into the victim’s homes that so the audience will think he had something to do with it only to have him off himself before he explains anything to anyone and then just drop it without really explaining anything (yes, I know who he was…but what was he doing in the Dover and Birch residence?). Let’s throw mazes all over the walls and then shows a flashback with a book of mazes and a creepy message and then…not explain what the mazes have to do with anything! Let’s give the kidnapper this ridiculous backstory and then never talk about it past a solitary comment.
Let’s spend two and a half hours doing absolutely nothing but giving the impression that we are doing a LOT!
And don’t even get me started on the ending. This is what I mean about these holes in plot that just don’t add up. Keller discovers the truth, but instead of informing the police and rushing to the rescue with Loki, he runs FROM the police and goes there alone, only to dig himself into a very deep hole (literally) and then, when all is said and done it takes quite a bit of time before the police do anything about investigating the area in which the crime took place (once again, wouldn’t that be the FIRST thing you did?).
That stupid whistle.
But the ensemble is great, right? Sort of. They all work to an extent, but the only one who really does a lot with what he’s given is Jake Gyllenhaal. He actually works to flesh out Loki and his obsessions, while the others tend to give a glossed over variation of a solitary emotion. Jackman yells and glares and then prays. Davis cries. Howard awkwardly holds his mouth in shock and looks like he wants to pee in his pants. Maria Bello kind of disappears from the whole movie only to reappear as a loon. Paul Dano doesn’t have the chance to do much but look scared and scream. Melissa Leo gets saddled with a ridiculous character, and while she sells it I’m not quite sure I care for what she’s selling.
Conceptually, ‘Prisoners’ had promise. As a father (of two young girls about the age of the ones kidnapped here), I was not looking forward to watching this. My biggest fear is something like this. Abuse is bad enough, but not knowing where and what is happening to your children is the WORST feeling in the world, and I have to admit, I was totally TEAM KELLER for the first half of this film, but ‘Prisoners’ doesn’t know how to develop this concept in a way that feels authentic or even intelligent. It all just feels so stupid.
I give this an F. I was going to go with a D, but as I wrote this review I actually got angry with how ridiculous this movie really is. It is SO FUCKING STUPID! Oscar bit, at least with the cinematography, which is absolutely nothing special but at least that was all it got. The idea of this being nominated for Best Picture (which was a possibility for a minute there) is cringe worthy.