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I had already previewed Prisoners a while ago, and was quite interested in seeing the movie. However, I didn’t have the chance until yesterday due to… life. Moving across continents does stand in the way of watching movies, lol. Anyway, I finally got to see it!

In Prisoners, Anna and Joy, two young daughters of Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) and Franklin Birch (Terrence Howard) are kidnapped. For a long time, it remains unclear who exactly did it and where the children are, although a mentally challenged Alex Jones is first arrested on suspicion (Paul Dano). He is soon released however, to the dismay of Dover, who is convinced Jones did it. Dover kidnaps him and locks him up in his diseased father’s decrepit house, where he tortures Jones to get the information on the location of the kids. Meanwhile, Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) investigates the case and becomes suspicious of Dover as well. The movie covers multiple red herrings and, for a kidnapping story, is surprisingly complex.

The Good

The best part of this movie is probably Hugh Jackman in his role as Keller Dover. One might argue it is his best role thus far; Dover is as intense a character I’ve seen. Although I don’t have any children myself, somehow his anger, his frustration, his sense of failure, is all very relatable. Most people wouldn’t go as far as actually torturing others, but I can imagine it is what many would want to do if they were in the situation Dover found himself in.  The force with which Jackman presents Dover is awe-inspiring and frightening, and the contrasting softness he showed at times made him hauntingly real.


Jake Gyllenhaal performed well as the supporting actor, in the role of Detective Loki, and although we don’t learn too much about the character, the twitch in his eyes, the big black circles beneath his eyes due to lack of sleep, his ability to remain sharp nonetheless, his frustration at being unable to solve the case for such a long time and the mistakes he made; all this made him an interesting character to follow.

The complexity of the story is another facet of this movie I enjoyed. You’re guided through the investigation of the kidnapping, and small hints are revealed throughout the movie. While at times the foreshadowing became a tad too obvious and in some cases I had already predicted what was going to happen long before it was revealed, it didn’t matter. The story was thoroughly engaging and horrifying at times. It was unsubtle in its violence but subtle in its love and softness.

The Bad

While complex and engaging, which are both pros in my opinion, I found the movie too long. Sometimes the pacing dragged; it could have used some speeding up. Occasionally, for that reason, scenes even bordered on boring. Director Denis Villeneuve can be commended for directing such a multi-layered story, but should have shown a bit more willingness to cut despite how beautiful the shots were. For instance, the many scenes covering how the police and fathers were walking through the forest searching for the kids could have been cut down considerably. This movie would have been better at around 120 minutes instead of a big 153.


The Interesting

Warning, spoilers: don’t read if you have yet to see the movie (or don’t mind having parts of it spoiled)

The Exploration of Emotion

Interesting was how the many kinds of emotional distortion were portrayed, moreover, the way the people in their complex emotions and state of minds interacted with each other was fascinating. The effect the kidnapping had on the parents was fascinating: they all responded extremely differently to the situation. Dover turned full-on psycho aggressor, his wife, Grace (Maria Bello) had a mental breakdown and spent most of the time drugged, in bed; Franklin Birch remained mostly rational, but was intensely sad and his wife, Nancy (Viola Davis), reacted mostly like her husband but was often catatonic.

Alex Jones’ mental deficiency was also depicted very convincingly (props to Paul Dano). It led to a lot of confusion, primarily in Dover, which led the viewer believe that perhaps there was more behind Jones after all. Dover could not understand Jones was truly not “there” and his misunderstanding of another’s mind was perhaps the most horrifying of the entire movie. I’ve wondered if perhaps Jones’ intellectual disability was a result of his own kidnapping, but it did seem like he was affected by it nevertheless: the way he held up the little dog by its leash when he was about to walk it, or the way he viciously whispered to Dover about how the kids didn’t start crying until he left them. More obvious was the mental damage the kidnapping did to Bobby Taylor (David Dastmalchian), who was still stuck in the violence of it all.

Incapability of Law Enforcement

As I already discussed in my preview of this movie, I got the impression the creators of the movie wanted to show the incapability of law enforcement. And despite the fact that eventually, Loki does catch the perpetrator and saves the day, the story is riddled with examples of where law enforcement fails.

At first it seems that law enforcement – Loki – isn’t capable of finding the kidnapper, and Dover is disappointed and feels he needs to take matters into his own hands, leading to him taking the wrong guy and torturing him to get answers. And while Loki has a gut feeling about Dover regarding Alex, Loki once more fails when he is searching the house where Dover keeps Jones, failing to find him, save him and punish Dover.


Loki even loses his temper with Bob Taylor when he interrogates him, leading to Taylor grabbing Loki’s gun and shooting himself. That’s pretty dark. Then there’s the management of the local PD: Loki’s captain is an apathetic bastard who doesn’t do what’s right, but what’s convenient.

The movie is cut off when Loki finds Dover,and it’s unclear what will happen to Dover: will Loki arrest him and punish him? The audience is left to imagine what happens next. The examples of the failure of law enforcement were ample in this movie, leading to a general sense that they’re incapable to provide safety and justice.

Prisoners Plays on Our Fear

The reason I think this movie resonates with a big audience is because it so clearly plays on our sense of fear. Modern (Western) society is riddled with fear: fear of the other, in particular (which is enforced by the media). We are led to believe, again in this movie, that the other is something we should fear. Evil came from every corner in this movie and it’s not just the Eastern-looking fellow we should fear which has been an often recurring theme in movies in the past decade.

Now, instead, it’s the Everyman who should be distrusted and is capable of all evil. Prisoners suggests the mentally challenged/damaged (Jones and Taylor) are dangerous, as well as the loving parent (Dover/Birch), even the town Father (Len Cariou), who had a body hidden in his cellar, and finally, the seemingly innocent auntie, Holly Jones (Melissa Leo). Essentially, this movie tells us: trust no one. 

Concluding Words

Although I think Prisoners was a good movie generally and Hugh Jackman’s performance was award-worthy, I did find it disconcerting and not just for its gory torture scenes. Together, the portrayal of the incapability of law enforcement and the message that we should trust no one leads exactly to what Dover does in this movie: take matters into your own hands. As I already discussed elsewhere, movies’ messaging is received by the subconsciouss. The impression of the world people would be left with after having watched this movie isn’t pretty.

What did you think of Prisoners if you’ve seen it?

What do you think of my ideas about the movie’s message?

Prisoners 2013

Prisoners (2013)


Cast:  a.o.


Cinematography: Roger Deakins

Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller

153 minutes

IMDb | Trailer