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Prisoners

Year: 2013
Production Co: Alcon Entertainment
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Writer: Aaron Guzikowski
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Paul Dano, Melissa Leo, Maria Bello, Terrence Howard, Viola Davis

This critical darling was about as far away from Logan/Wolverine as Hugh Jackman could possibly get, and it's not quite true to say he gives it everything he has – for most of the movie he keeps his natural openness and exuberance tightly reigned in.

Partly it's because he's a man bristling with violence a shocking act threatens to unleash, and partly because his demeanour matches the rest of director Villeneuve's creative approach and palette. Everything from the setting to the characters is sombre, wintry, downcast and full of threat.

Jackman plays Keller Dover, a suburban father to a little girl, husband to Maria Bello and good friend to a similar family led by parents Terrence Howard and Viola Davis.

While celebrating Thanksgiving, the little girls of both families go outside to play, and before long it's apparent they've vanished. The prime suspect is the creepy local loner Alex (Paul Dano, perfectly cast as the weak-willed, sniveling boy who might be the worst kind of monster), who lives in a mobile home on the property of his long-suffering but understanding mother (Melissa Leo).

Detective Loki (Gyllenhaal) is assigned to the case. As dark and constantly miserable as Keller, Loki takes Alex in, but there's no evidence to convict him. Keller's enraged at the lack of action in what seems like an open and shut case and all the while, the days and night with no sign of the girls roll on to maintain the agony.

In desperation Keller does the unthinkable. He takes Alex hostage, locking him up in a half-remodelled house and beating them kid mercilessly to try and get him to talk, with no result.

Three quarters of Prisoners is a drama – a study of a man unravelling as he goes through the worst any parent possibly can. At a certain point however, it's as if scriptwriter Aaron Guzikowski realised he wanted to tell a cracking old yarn of thrills and adventure and Prisoners abruptly turns into a twist-infused potboiler in the rush to lay the mystery out.

If you like the darkness of the original approach the ending might grate. If you've been sitting through the dark clothes, dark moods and dark scenery waiting for something to happen, it might finally satisfy you, but it's hard not to feel like Prisoners loses the strength of its former convictions and realises it owes you a bunch of payoffs.

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