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Movie Review: 'Prisoners' takes no prisoners

Published October 01. 2013 05:00PM

When it comes to psychological thrillers, "Prisoners" takes no prisoners.

"Prisoners," paced by an intense, carefully-crafted and completely believable performance by Hugh Jackman, is a tension-filled nail-biter with a plot twist that you probably won't see.

Keller Dover (Jackman) is a middle-class father living in western Pennsylvania who owns his owns remodeling business. He and his wife, Grace (Maria Bello), have a teen son, Ralph (Dylan Minnette), and young daughter Anna (Erin Gerasimovich).

They visit their neighbors, Franklin and Nancy Birch (Terrence Howard, Viola Davis), for Thanksgiving dinner in the subdivision where they live. The Birches have two daughters, Eliza (Zoe Borde) and Joy (Kyla Drew Simmons).

During the visit, the youngest daughters, Anna and Joy, disappear when they are playing outside. Police Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) brings in a suspect, Alex (Paul Dano) for questioning. Alex owns the RV that was parked in the vicinity. Alex cannot be held because of a lack of evidence.

The cinematography in "Prisoners" by the great Director of Photography Roger Deakins ("The Shawhank Redemption," 1994; "No Country for Old Men," 2007; "Skyfall," 2012; Coen Brothers' films) is desaturated, as "Movie Maven" Mike Gontkosky of Whitehall pointed out. The color palette is that of the blues and grays and browns of the overcast skies and snowy-rainy landscapes that one associates with late fall-early winter Pennsylvania.

Canadian Denis Villeneuve ("Incendies," 2010; "Polytechnique," 2009; "Maelstrom," 2000), directing from a screenplay by Aaron Guzikowski ("Contraband"), has Deakins frame the shots in a very workmanlike manner that bespeaks not only the matter-of-fact procedural nature of the storyline, but the lives and occupations of the protagonists, as well. The settings are unembellished.

My quibbles with the film have to do with its time and place. The year or decade is never disclosed. The place is never specified, although there is a reference to Graterford Prison, and a "Local News Pa" web site is depicted. However, the police department sign states Conyers, which is in Georgia. Also, there's a Wine and Spirits store, clearly not a Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board State Store.

Based on the car-year models, cell phones, computers and televisions, the story seems to take place in the 1990s. If this is supposed to be true, there are gaffes, especially concerning the year and types of vehicles. Plus, several Pennsylania vehicle registration sticker expiration dates state 2012 and 2013. There are also a few flat-screen computers and TV monitors visible.

And, at 2 1/2 hours, "Prisoners" is overly-long by a good 30 minutes.

"Prisoners" is an ensemble piece and each of the lead actors, as well as the supporting actors, in the small cast is excellent.

Jackman, in full beard and flattened hair, disappears into the role. He's unrecognizable. He doesn't seem to be at all the same person who starred as Valjean in "Les Miserables" (2012) or the lead in "The Wolverine" (2013). His eyes have a fierce intensity. He doesn't so much as say his words as spit them. He is an angry papa bear of a man trying to rescue one of his cubs. His performance is nothing short of explosive. He deserves an Oscar actor nomination.

Jake Gyllenhaal gives a reined-in, thoughtful, sincere performance as the beleaguered police investigator. Look for a possible Oscar supporting actor nomination for Gyllenhaal.

Maria Bello plays the desperate housewife with believability. She etches the arc of her character's desperation. Viola Davis and Terrence Howard are fine as the other couple coping with the kidnapping of a child.

Paul Dano makes yet another indelible impression as the suspect in the kidnapping. Melissa Leo plays one of those middle class ciphers with incredible depth and understanding.

"Prisoners" goes inside a story that is every parent's worst nightmare and makes it real. On another level, it's a cautionary tale about what can happen when one tries to take the law into one's own hands.

"Prisoners," MPAA Rated R (Restricted. Children Under 17 Require Accompanying Parent or Adult Guardian.) for disturbing violent content including torture, and language throughout; Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller; Run time: 2 hrs., 33 min. Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures.

Credit Readers Anonymous: Even though "Prisoners" is set in western Pennsylvania, it was filmed in and around Atlanta, Ga.

Box Office, Sept. 27: The weather report was good for "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2," opening at No. 1 with $35 million, sending "Prisoners" to No. 2, $11.2 million, $38.9 million, two weeks, and keeping "Rush" at No. 3, $10.3 million, $10.6 million, two weeks, and "Baggage Claim" opening at No. 4. with $9.3 million, and "Don Jon" opening at No. 5, with $9 million;

6. "Insidious Chapter 2," $6.7 million, $69.5 million, three weeks; 7. "The Family," $3.6 million, $31.6 million, three weeks; 8. "Instructions Not Included," $3.3 million, $38.5 million, five weeks; 9. "We're The Millers," $2.8 million, $142.4 million, eight weeks; 10. "Lee Daniels' The Butler," $2.4 million, $110.2 million, seven weeks

Unreel, Oct. 2:

"Gravity," PG-13. Sandra Bullock and George Clooney star as two astronauts set adrift in space. Alfonso Cuaron directs the science-fiction drama with Bullock already an Oscar actress nominee contender.

"Runner Runner," R: Ben (He who will be "Batman") Affleck and Justin Timberlake star in a crime-thriller about coming face to face with the offshore operators of an on online poker game.

Read Paul Willistein's movie reviews at the Lehigh Valley Press web site, lehighvalleypress. com and the Times-News web site, Email Paul Willistein:

Three Popcorn Boxes out of Five Popcorn Boxes

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