Sept. 26--With a very strong cast and an intriguing premise, "Prisoners" has a world of potential.
Unfortunately, the film winds up just missing the mark, evolving into a standard crime drama that most audiences will be able to piece together long before the characters on screen do.
Hugh Jackman plays Keller Dover, a hard-working family man whose world is thrown into turmoil when his daughter and her friend disappear shortly after a Thanksgiving get-together.
The abduction is investigated by a no-nonsense detective (Jake Gyllenhaal), with the clues leading to a mentally challenged young man named Alex (Paul Dano).
When Alex is released from police custody due to lack of evidence, Keller decides to take matters into his own hands, capturing Alex with the intent of doing anything necessary to force him to talk.
"Prisoners" is well-acted -- the cast also includes Maria Bello, Terrence Howard, Viola Davis and Melissa Leo -- and effectively captures the helplessness of parents unable to find their children.
There are overlying themes of religious beliefs and having your faith tested that work for a while but slowly start to feel forced.
But the biggest problem with "Prisoners" is the deliberate pacing, with Aaron Guzikowski's script taking its time to evolve as the mystery is slowly revealed. The problem with this decision is that most audiences will figure out most of the puzzle within an hour, a big problem for a movie that is nearly 2 1/2 hours long.
By being so far ahead of the story, the film drags through unneeded plot threads, including a red herring that just feels thrown in.
Even with the poor pacing, "Prisoners" is still almost bearable, largely because the cast makes it better than it should be. But for all its bells and whistles, "Prisoners" feels more like a middle-of-the-road episode of "Law and Order" than a film that wants to be a mystery wrapped in a moral dilemma.
DVD dandy of the week
This week's dandy is "Room 237" (B+), the intriguing documentary that on the surface is a fascinating study of the Stanley Kubrick classic "The Shining," but deeper within is a movie about how we look at movies.
Written and directed by Rodney Ascher, "Room 237" explores various interpretations of "The Shining" -- theories that have been the subject of debate among film scholars for the last 30 years.
These theories include everything from "The Shining" being a social commentary on the genocide of Native Americans (a theory that evolves from the inclusion of a Calumet baking powder can on the shelf in the background during one of the film's early scenes), to being a metaphor for the Holocaust, to being Kubrick's admission that he helped fabricate the Apollo 11 moon landing.
My favorite is the suggestion that Kubrick was so meticulous with the framing in each scene that he created a film that can be watched forward and backward at the same time, with images superimposed over each other to create some rather creepy parallels between scenes. (I had the chance to see the film this way and this theory proves to have some juice -- some rather creepy images mesh together to create a completely different film.)
Fans of "The Shining" will find these discussions and theories fascinating, eager to view the film again to put some of these theories to test.
But this is a film that isn't just for fans of the horror classic. It's a movie about how people look at movies and how even one scene in a film can be interpreted in multiple ways -- and how those interpretations of even the smallest detail can shape how we perceive said film.
"Room 237" is not rated, but does feature language, brief nudity and violence. It is now available on DVD and is streaming on Netflix.
-- To get sportswriter/movie reviewer Micheal Compton's thoughts on all things movies, visit his blog at mcompton.wordpress.com or his Twitter page at twitter.com/mcompton428. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal
Directed by: Denis Villeneuve
Rating: R for disturbing violent content, including torture, and language throughout
Playing at: Regal Greenwood Mall Stadium 10, Highland Cinemas (Glasgow)
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