DVD Review - Prisoners (Oscar Review)

The 86th Academy Award nominations were announced on January 16, 2014. I'm now doing my best to see all the recognized films before the air date of the actual Oscars ceremony on March 2nd. Most of which I have seen, but for one reason or another there are a few I missed. This one is one such. Prisoners was nominated for one Oscar, Best Cinematography.

Two families in rural Pennsylvania consist of two couples with two children. One family is white. The other is black, but race is never a factor here. Their children consist of a teenager and a prepubescent girl. One rainy day, while the families are visiting each other, the two young girls are kidnapped.

Jake Gyllenhaal plays Detective Loki who is assigned this case. Circumstantial evidence points to a mentally challenged young man named Alex Jones, played by Paul Dano. There is not enough physical evidence to hold or charge Alex, so the police have to let him go. This upsets one of the fathers of the missing girls, Keller Dover, played by Hugh Jackman. His reaction is to kidnap Alex, hold him hostage and torture him until Alex reveals where the girls are.

The torture scenes are intense and more painful to watch than in Kathryn Bigelow's Zero Dark Thirty. Oddly, Paul Greengrass' Captain Phillips was the Oscar-nominated film that got compared to Bigelow's, mainly for the military aspects. Yet, it was the torture aspects that got the most press, so if any movie this past year should draw comparison to Zero Dark Thirty, it should be this one by director Denis Villenueve.

Many people criticized Bigelow for not denouncing torture more or in a more direct way in the film, or for suggesting useful information came out of the torture. I don't agree with these criticisms, but I wouldn't say that they're all together invalid. Yet, if people did agree with these criticisms, then this film is the perfect answer.

Taking it out of the realm of the War on Terror and removing the typical politics, Villenueve's film is more personal and understandable to everyday families because it taps into an understandable and common fear by most parents. Spoiler alert, but the reason it's the perfect answer is because Villenueve shows that torture doesn't work and doesn't lead the torturer anywhere good.

Roger Deakins is the Oscar-nominated cinematographer for this. This film marks his 11th nomination. The Academy is probably nominating him now out of habit. His resume is impressive on creating images that are gorgeous. Examples include Skyfall and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Unfortunately, I wasn't impressed with the images here with the exception of the car race at the end where Loki is trying to get to the hospital quickly. The camerawork, the simple placement in and out of the car, is compelling and thrilling, but that's about it.

Three Stars out of Five.
Rated R for disturbing violent content including torture, and language throughout.
Running Time: 2 hrs. and 33 mins.


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