“Prisoners” examines morality, captivity

The trailer for the movie “Prisoners” features a panicked Terrence Howard questioning Hugh Jackman, “What in the world did you do?” Throughout the film, questions like this arise as both characters and audience alike wonder about the sanctity of morals during desperate times. The movie—directed by Canadian Denis Villeneuve and featuring Jake Gyllenhaal, Jackman, Howard and Melissa Leo—keeps its viewers entertained for all of its thrilling 153 minutes with a carefully crafted plot and a storyline that keeps the audience guessing.

Anna Dover and Joy Birch are two elementary school-aged girls who go missing on Thanksgiving Day in their Pennsylvania suburb. All evidence points towards an RV driven by a man named Alex Jones who has the IQ of a 10-year-old. Detective Loki—played by  Gyllenhaal—arrests Jones, only to discover he has seemingly no ties to the girls and will not or cannot talk. Jackman’s Keller Dover is a desperate father who surpasses the line of extremity in working with and against Loki to save his daughter. Dover does not take his responsibility of protecting his family lightly as he works to save his daughter before it is too late. The girls’ parents wonder how far is too far while they worry for their loved ones and slowly lose grip on their lives.

The audience meets Loki as he eats Thanksgiving dinner alone in a diner, flirting with the only other person in the restaurant, the waitress. In this brief scene, viewers are introduced to Loki, a determined and puzzling man, whose role in the film involves handling Jackman’s strange behavior, a pedophiliac priest and an uncooperative police captain. Gyllenhaal manages the mysterious role well, even donning fake tattoos (at his request) that are never mentioned.

“Prisoners” is a more local and less action-oriented “Taken,” that focuses on the psychological difficulty of dealing with an abduction. Throughout the film, Loki and the parents must work to keep their emotions in check through an emotionally charged situation.

Although over two and a half hours long, the movie does not feel like an arduous marathon. A thriller true to its genre, the plot of “Prisoners” was devastatingly real, making it easy to get lost in the conflict.

One qualm with the film is that, likely in a weak effort to keep the movie as brief as possible, the first 20 minutes are incredibly hurried. Howard goes from apathetic toward the girls not being home to downright petrified in less than a minute and the girls’ older siblings are not convincing in immediately suggesting that the girls were taken by the RV. However, the movie keeps a consistent pace from then on as the plot develops more and more tension with each scene.

Despite the rough beginning, the remaining two hours of the movie make up for it with sweat-inducing drama and a nail-biting plot. This thrilling movie does more than simply feed off the tension. It uses questions of morality and an intricate storyline to maintain the attention of the audience. In many ways, the title of the film is also fascinating, as the audience realizes, you don’t have to be abducted or incarcerated to be a prisoner.