HOLLYWOOD—Crafting a thriller, requires the right elements.  Not just great acting, but great storytelling, suspense, directing and characters the audience becoms intertwined with.  “Prisoners” is a top-notch thriller, that grabs hold of the audience and doesn’t let go until the final moment. The movie tackles a difficult subject matter involving the disappearance of children, which will tap into a parent’s worst fear.  It’s tense, so tense that emotions will take over the spectator.

The movie stars Hugh Jackman as Keller Dover, a religious man and carpenter who spends Thanksgiving dinner with his neighbors Franklin (Terrence Howard) and Nancy Birch (Viola Davis).  When the couples two daughters, Anna and Joy go missing it becomes an all out search to locate them before it’s too late.  Heading up the investigation is Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal). Gyllenhaal delivers a tour-de force performance, determined to do all possible while maintaining his ethical boundaries as someone expected to uphold the law.

The prime suspect in the case is Alex Jones (Paul Dano) who’s RV captured the attention of the little girls before they went missing.  With any great thriller Alex is pegged as the red herring, but the fact that he has the IQ of a 10-year-old makes it almost impossible for him to carry out such a kidnapping. Alex lives with his aunt Holly (Melissa Leo); Leo also delivers a riveting performance as Alex’ caretaker. When it is revealed that no evidence links Alex to the girls kidnapping he is released; sending Keller into a wrath any parent would display when their child is missing. His gut tells him Alex knows more than he’s revealing and he’s willing to go to great lengths to get answers.

Keller, frustrated with the law’s actions, kidnaps Alex and keeps him locked away inside an abandoned apartment complex where the suspect is tortured.  These are polarizing moments for the viewer because you’ll identify with Jackman’s character, but at the same time empathize with Dano’s character. Is what he’s doing right?  Of course not, but in desperate times people react on emotion, not on instinct. A father’s daughter is missing and with each day the child is not found, the likelihood of survival greatly decreases; it’s a race against time ultimately.

“Prisoners” examines a tale of two families literally being ripped apart by the disappearance of two girls. One family goes to extremes to get results, the other relies on fate.  Why does the picture work so well?  It’s a tantalizing thriller that keeps the viewer guessing just how it will all end.  There are several twists throughout the film that points fingers at another guilty party, but what appears to be a slam bang is not the case.

The one problem that the movie faces is its pacing which slows down mid-way through the picture, which could open a slight door of tedium for the audience. It’s important to note “Prisoners” clocks in at over 150 minutes, which is a long movie in most moviegoers opinion.  When a movie clocks in over 2 hours, it has to be quite satisfying otherwise people will be checking their watch which is never a good sign.

“Prisoners” is a movie that socks the viewer in the gut with the worse possible scenario and examines the follow-up of that situation.  With strong storytelling, stellar acting and characters that evolve throughout the picture this is a movie that leaves the audience at a loss for words.

By LaDale Anderson