Prisoners Review: Jake Gyllenhaal and Hugh Jackman’s Thriller Is Violent and “Underwhelms”

Jake Gyllenhaal as Detective Loki and Hugh Jackman as Keller Dover
Jake Gyllenhaal as Detective Loki and Hugh Jackman as Keller Dover in Prisoners Wilson Webb/Warner Bros.

In theaters Friday, Sept. 20.


If you’re going to sit through a 153-minute-long mystery that centers on kidnapped children, it had better be great. And enthralling. With rich characters. This outing underwhelms on all accounts.

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Hugh Jackman makes a rare misstep as Keller Dover, a middle-class Pennsylvania hunter who becomes unglued after his daughter and a neighbor’s girl disappear on Thanksgiving. After the main suspect, Alex (Paul Dano) — a stringy-haired introvert who, according to the cops, has the IQ of a 10-year-old — is released, Keller turns vigilante. He snatches Alex on the street, holds him hostage and tortures him for information. As hours turn into days, Keller’s desperation for answers intensifies and results in harrowing, violent scenes. Think everything but the waterboarding in Zero Dark Thirty.

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Surely the law enforcement must be on top of this chaos, you ask. Enter Jake Gyllenhaal, who plays the only detective in town who cares. He attempts to aid the baffled families by leading the investigation — yet it’s a frustrating puzzle in which the pieces don’t quite fit together. Explain, for example, why another local misfit breaks into the families' homes. Is that alcoholic priest with the corpse in his basement relevant? The script is so busy trying to trip up audiences with red herrings that for a brief stretch, even Gyllenhaal seems suspicious just because he has a smattering of eclectic tattoos.

Meanwhile, the most straightforward clues, obvious to anyone who's ever seen a single episode of Law & Order, go unpursued. Just as well: The third-act twist is an unsettling, unsatisfying downer (and isn’t nearly as clever as it thinks it is.)

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But it’s not all about whodunit. The drama not-so-subtly hits on the theme that even the most sane people, from the charismatic family man to the dogged police officer, can hold themselves prisoner to their own obsessions. Start by breaking free of middling movies.

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