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Monday, December 16, 2013

Prisoners Blu-ray Review

Reviewed by Sean Ferguson
How far would you go to protect your family? Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) is facing every parent’s worst nightmare. His six-year-old daughter, Anna, is missing, together with her young friend, Joy, and as minutes turn to hours, panic sets in. The only lead is a dilapidated RV that had earlier been parked on their street. Heading the investigation, Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) arrests its driver, Alex Jones (Paul Dano), but a lack of evidence forces his release. Prisoners follows a distraught father as he takes matters into his own hands and hunts down the man he suspects abducted his daughter and her friend.  Led by Jackman and Gyllenhaal, Prisoners features an all-star cast including Oscar nominee Viola Davis (The Help, Doubt), Golden Globe Award nominee Maria Bello (A History of Violence, The Cooler) and Oscar nominee Terrence Howard (Hustle & Flow), with Academy Award winner Melissa Leo (The Fighter) and Paul Dano. 

Film (5 out of 5 stars)

There are some films that will spark conversations as soon as they are over due to their subject matter or the questions that they raise.  Films like Fatal Attraction, Indecent Proposal, Flight 93, and now Prisoners, all of which makes the audience ask themselves what would they do if they had been in that position.  Prisoners makes parents wonder just how far they would go to protect their child and to what lengths they would go to save them from jeopardy.  

That's a question that Keller Drover (Hugh Jackman) is forced to face in this movie.  Drover is a self-sufficient religious man, who tries his best to instill his values and survival knowledge to his family. Despite their carpentry business that's struggling in a dormant economy, the family is happy and Drover dotes on his wife Grace (Maria Bello), his son Ralph (Dylan Minnette) and his daughter Anna (Erin Gerasimovich).  The Drovers also have some close family friends who happen to be their neighbors, Franklin Birch (Terrence Howard, his wife Nancy (Viola Davis), and their daughter Joy (Kyla Drew Simmons).

When the two families get together for a Thanksgiving dinner, Ralph, Anna, and Joy go outside to have some fun when they see a RV parked nearby.  The girls want to play on the RV but Ralph feels uneasy about it and take them back to the house.  Later that night, the two families discover that Anna and Joy have disappeared and the only suspect that they can think of is the unknown owner of the RV.  When the police led by Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) track down the RV, the driver tries to escape, but he hits a tree and crashes his RV.

Despite looking and acting like a stereotypical suspect, Loki discovers that the young man named Alex Jones  (Paul Dano) has the I.Q. of a ten year old.  After interviewing Jones, Loki doesn't believe the man to be capable of pulling off that kind of crime, especially when no incriminating evidence is found of the missing daughters inside the RV.  With no evidence to keep him locked up, Jones is released but is accosted in the parking lot by Drover who is convinced that he is responsible for Anna and Joy’s disappearance.  When Jones tells Drover that “They only cried when I left them,” it removes any doubt that Drover had that Jones took his daughter. 

Because Drover has lost all faith in the police and Detective Loki, he decides to take matters into his own hands and starts to follow Jones around.  When Drover hears Jones singing a song that Anna and Joy liked to sing, it’s the last straw for the man and he abducts Jones and imprisons him in an abandoned building that was left to him by his father.  Drover enlists the reluctant help from Franklin Birch and the two men start to question Jones about where their children are.  When Jones doesn't talk, Drover starts to beat him mercilessly to get the information.  It’s too much for Birch, who thinks Drover has gone too far, so he tells his wife what they've done and she goes to see Jones for herself and ends up supporting Drover because she feels that the ends will justify the means if it will bring her child back.

Meanwhile, Loki has been interviewing sex offenders in the area and he discovers a corpse hidden in a basement of a pedophile priest.  The priest tells Loki that the man had confessed to waging a war against God by killing many children so he killed him.   Later during a candlelight vigil for the children, Loki observes a hooded individual acting nervous and looking very suspicious.  When he begins to move towards the man, the suspect takes off running and manages to escape which adds to the mounting frustration Loki is feeling as he's never failed to solve a case before this.  All the while, Drover has been torturing Jones in a last ditch effort to try to save his child, even though it's costing him his soul and his friendship with the Birch's who despite tacitly agreeing to Drover's methods, are horrified by it and won't participate in it personally.

The movie grows more and more suspenseful as more suspects appear and the morality of everyone involved is strained to the breaking point.  The movie asks us how far we would go if it was our child and it raises a lot of uncomfortable questions that civilized society doesn't like to think about.  Keller Drover is just a normal guy but he's willing to resort to brutality because he believes it will save his daughter.  Hugh Jackman is perfect as Drover as he skillfully shows the many facets of the man as we see the survivalist, the good father and husband, and he's willing to show the darkness within all of us when he feels that he's run out of options.  

Between Prisoners and The Wolverine, Jackman is having an incredible year in cinema and I would be shocked if he isn't nominated for a slew of acting awards for this movie.  His performance is raw, scary, and utterly believable which makes it even more unsettling to watch.  During the scene where he's threatening to hit Jones with a hammer, I could swear that Terrence Howard and Paul Dano were absolutely terrified just by looking at their expressions.  It could be really good acting on their part, but I suspect otherwise because even for someone not there, the scene is extremely powerful and Jackman sells it better than anyone.  If there are any people left that question his range as an actor, this movie should finally put that to rest as Jackman delivers an Oscar worthy performance.

The rest of the cast is also top notch, especially Jake Gyllenhaal who also offers a very nuanced performance and one that I didn't see coming from him.  His performance as Detective Loki is excellent as he shows us the man's strengths and weaknesses and makes him feel like a real cop. Loki's entire life is devoted to his job as he spends his every waking moment trying to solve crimes. Because of that, he seems to have forgone any personal relationships in that pursuit and his incredible track record for solving cases has made him cocky and insubordinate to his captain whom he feels is lacking.  Watching Loki's interaction with Drover also made me realize just how unthankful being a detective must be as despite his best efforts, Drover (and people in positions like him) can only see things from their own hurt and limited point of view.  It's hard to see Loki being forced to take a lot of verbal abuse from Drover while forcing himself not to lash back at the man out of professional courtesy especially when you consider how often that must happen.

The other supporting actors are also fantastic with Paul Dano making for an entirely too believable suspect who may or may not be a dangerous pedophile, Terrence Howard as a man whose ethics can only be stretched so far, Viola Davis as his wife who is more willing than her husband to make the hard choices to save their daughter, Melissa Leo as the eccentric aunt of Jones, and Maria Bello as a mother who just couldn't keep it together in the face of such a tragedy.  Each of these actors' characters offer us the full spectrum of how we would react and it's not easy to watch.  In fact, while watching the movie I flashed back to watching Seven and how that movie's feeling of dread just intensified throughout the movie all the way to its bleak ending.  I was really hoping that Prisoners wouldn't get that nihilistic and I'm glad that it took a more suspenseful thriller type route instead.  

There are some pretty good twists in this movie that are subtle enough that you can miss them if you aren't paying attention.  Denis Villeneuve has done an incredible job bringing this story to life and his direction of the actors is sure to win them some awards.  He also wisely kept the film grounded and real which really adds to the overall sense of dread that permeates the movie. Villeneuve knows how to ratchet up the suspense but is also smart enough to know that without injecting in some real humanity, this movie could have easily been the usual formulaic movie that we see so much of.  Prisoners is a smart, scary, and suspenseful movie whose premise is all too possible and every parent's nightmare.
Video (5 out of 5 stars)

This 1080p (1.78:1) transfer perfectly captures Roger Deakins' bleak and moody cinematography. The detail on display is sharp and you cam see the various textures clearly. Colors are muted in nature due to a creative decision, but each color comes through distinctly and correctly presents the various grays and browns that serve as the film's primary colors. The flesh tones are realistic and true to life throughout the movie while the black levels are incredibly deep and solid. This transfer looks flawless and clean and it isn't plagued by print damage or any kind of digital defect like noise or aliasing either.
Audio (5 out of 5 stars)

Prisoners' DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is just as good as the film's video quality and it does a nice job enhancing the story it's telling instead of just being cranked up to eleven like a lot of other movies.  This lossless mix is a subtle one where it's always present but always in the background until it's needed and then it makes its presence known quickly.  I like how the score and effects are kept sparse too until they are brought to the fore for emphasis and to underline and support what the actors are doing at the time.  The dialogue is crystal clear and the rear channels provide a lot of ambiance that's appropriate to the environment.  The cross channel directionality is accurate and provide a lot of immersion.  This mix is perfectly suited for the movie and this Blu-ray does an excellent job delivering that for the viewers.
Extras (2 out of 5 stars)

While I can't say enough good things about this Blu-ray's video and audio quality, I have to admit that I was hoping for more extras than the two featurettes that have been included.  The good news is that they are both in high definition.  It's also nice to get a DVD and Digital Copy of the film too.
  • Every Moment Matters - This three minute look at the film is essentially an extended promo for the movie that focuses on the relationship between Jackman and Gyllenhaal's characters.
  • Powerful Performances - At nine minutes long, this is the featurette to watch as we get to hear from the film's cast who talk about the film and the ethical issues it raises.
  • DVD copy of the film
  • UltraViolet copy of the film
Summary (4 out of 5 stars)

Prisoners is a powerful film that's benefits from extremely strong performances from all involved but especially from Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal who deliver award winning performances.  Both men are so good in their roles that you can empathize with both of their positions at the same time which makes the ambiguity of the film even more prevalent.  And that's the genius of the film and why it is sure to trigger a lot of discussion and soul searching for viewers once the movie is over because none of us really know how we would act if we were put in that kind of position.  I'm happy to report that this Blu-ray offers top notch video and audio quality. The only flaw in this otherwise stellar set are the limited extras.  This is a fantastic film and I highly recommend it!

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