Top notch suspense
In his first English-language film, Québécois director Villeneuve plays every variation of the survival theme, opening with a shot of local police inspector Loki (Gyllenhaal) and his son shooting a defenseless deer in the wintry woods, setting up parameters that will repeat themselves throughout the movie: the waiting and watching, the moment of action, the dull thud of consequence.
Plugging away patiently at crime in a no man’s land of recession-hit small-town America, Loki is put on the case of two young girls abducted on Thanksgiving afternoon. One of the girls’ fathers, Keller (Jackman), takes the law into his own hands when an initial suspect, Alex (Dano), is released from police custody.
As hours turn into rain-drenched days, domestic desperation turns into feral fear. And as ill-matched as they appear physically and mentally, Alex and Keller have their own reasons to remain violently obdurate as Loki sits in cars and interrogation rooms, choosing his moments.
Villeneuve’s pace is impeccable, with deceptively languid editing allowing details to settle and dialogue to resonate whilst decency and morality fight for a toehold. The thin veneer of self-knowledge was never more fragile. All we can do is watch and hope. To the very last minute.
Prisoners | Directed by Denis Villeneuve (USA 2013) with Jake Gyllenhaal, Hugh Jackman, Paul Dano, Melissa Leo. Starts October 10
Originally published in issue #120, October 2013.