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“Prisoners,” rated R
Rating: 3 out of 4 stars
Running time: 153 minutes
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Paul Dano and Viola Davis.
Now playing at Wildhorse Stadium Cinemas.
When you’re powerless to help others or yourself in a bad situation, the matter is only made worse knowing that things could be so much easier if all the rules went out the window. Perhaps in one way or another, the title of “Prisoners” applies to all members of society.
A Thanksgiving gathering between neighbors — what could be better than a holiday with family and friends? What starts off as a nice day for Pennsylvania couples Keller and Grace Dover (Hugh Jackman, Maria Bello) and Franklin and Nancy Birch (Terrence Howard, Viola Davis) turns into the worst thing that’s ever happened to them when their young daughters Anna and Joy (Erin Gerasimovich, Kyla Drew Simmons) leave the table and never come back.
Fearing the two girls have been kidnapped, the families quickly alert the police, who round up a suspect (Paul Dano), only to be forced to release him without any real evidence. Already at odds with the investigating detective (Jake Gyllenhaal) over his approach to the case, Keller is further unnerved by the feeling that there’s something more in the way of useful info that this seemingly harmless man isn’t sharing.
With his wife and neighbors inconsolable, it’s not long before anger and grief drive Keller to do something drastic, something which may serve his own personal need for vengeance but still won’t guarantee his daughter comes home to him safe and sound.
Considering his recent history playing a mutant, an ex-convict who bursts into song, the Easter Bunny and a guy with the worst facial feature ever conceived — check out the grossness of the barely watchable “Movie 43” — Jackman is more grounded than he’s ever been as a deeply conservative, red-blooded American male who doesn’t take no for an answer when it comes to his little girl’s life, opting for the kind of action that John Wayne and Clint Eastwood could get away with, but only in movies set in the 1800s.
You may applaud Keller, you may deplore him, but you’ve got to admit — the man is dedicated to his family.
Howard, Davis and Bello are put mostly in his shadow as parents who are all stuck in their own stages of sadness: Franklin functions but can’t bring himself to say much; Nancy refuses to clear the table from the dinner before everything went horribly wrong; and Grace remains in bed curled up with a bottle of sedatives.
Gyllenhaal is back in “Zodiac” and “End of Watch” territory as Detective Loki, the missing children’s possible savior, leaving no stone unturned but also turning up exactly the kind of sick and sordid folks most of us like to think couldn’t possibly exist.
Is Dano’s feeble-minded character one of those monsters? The actor is so inscrutable you almost feel sorry for him once he’s out of police custody and fair game for Keller.
Too bad for him his glasses — which look like the standard issue for pedophiles and pretty much all breeds of sex offenders — skew our negative perception to the extreme.
Appearances aren’t always what they seem, and no matter how closely you may look at something, there’s always something you don’t see. Some viewers will be able to assemble the pieces of this puzzle faster than others, but it’s a challenge nonetheless.
The English-language debut of French-Canadian director Denis Villeneuve takes its time presenting us with who these people are before their little angels go missing in a world of demons, making us feel for them all the more. Child abduction films like “Mystic River,” “Changeling” and “Gone Baby Gone” have set the bar high in creating a sense of despair during every parent’s nightmare, and though the pathos isn’t as great here, there’s no less of an emotional undertone.
The constant rain, sleet and snow that constantly pounds the ground certainly does nothing to make you think the story in “Prisoners” will end well for anyone, but it’s a prevailing sense of hope, no matter how slight, that keeps you from being overwhelmed with sadness. That’s all there is to it — never deny hope.
Andy Bockelman can be reached at 970-875-1793 or email@example.com.