Prisoners was the best crafted drama I’ve seen this year, with a steadily building tension but also organically pieced together. The lighting, camera angles and setting each fit into a mosaic portrait that is a social commentary.
The Dovers and the Birches, neighbors and friends, are celebrating Thanksgiving together when someone asks where Anna and Joy have gone. Keller’s son remembers an R.V. which the two young girls had been climbing over, was parked near their house – now it’s gone.
The manhunt begins and suddenly ends when the R.V. is spotted and it’s driver captured by Detective Loki (Gyllenhaal). When a forensics team is unable to turn up any evidence in the prime suspect’s R.V., the tension slowly begins to overtake both families. And by the way, the suspect couldn’t have taken the girls, because he has the I.Q. of a 10 year old.
Close up shots of indiscernible images and characters, and scenes that fade to black just before crucial reveals are made, exponentially build tensions that parallel the characters’ own.
The movie makes effective use of its timing; the bulk of the story is carried by Detective Loki’s investigation so that the protagonist, who has very limited physical action (sort of the point) isn’t given too much screen time. The protagonist, Keller Dover (Jackman), is the real anchor for the conflict.
As the title suggests, Keller is a prisoner of his own making; a self-made man, who’s perception of his role as a father and husband leads him to believe that God is largely absent. Keller’s actions convey his conviction that God has endowed him with the ability to take care of everything on his own. but is not necessarily enduring the hardships alongside him or his family. In other words, Keller has faith in his religion, not in his God.
As a result of his dependence upon himself, Keller tortures not only an innocent man, but a man who had become the victim of the very same inhumane crimes his own daughter endured. The story concludes that Keller essentially tortures himself, his family, and is in captivity as much literally as he is spiritually.
The violence is felt more than it is seen, which is a testament to the skill of the storytellers. Still, the face of the mentally retarded man who is an unwitting participant in the abduction of the girls after Keller had been beating him for days. The beatings have disfigured him so severely, his breathing is impaired. At this point, it’s clear he knows where the girls are being kept, and he still won’t speak.
The movie ends with both girls out of harms way, recovering in a hospital. Keller is left in a ditch which is covered by a sheet of plywood underneath a parked car – the ditch that once held his daughter and was almost her grave. She left behind her “emergency whistle” and Keller uses it to desperately and pathetically call for help. His pride had brought him to such a low point he was just as helpless as his daughter. The movie ends with Detective Loki searching for the source of the sound of Keller’s whistle, and with the hope that Keller is a changed man.