Hugh Jackman will always have trouble breaking away from the role which shot him to superstardom – Wolverine has been there throughout his entire career. So, no matter how different Prisoners, his 2013 offering, may be from the world of superheroes, growing a beard and having a constant scowl isn’t exactly a huge change in direction for the actor. Portraying a distraught father looking for his daughter would no doubt lead to this sort of menacing look, but, because it’s Jackman, you do expect claws to pop out from his hands at any minute. Instead you get a lot veins from his temple.
The desperate father in question is Keller Dover, your average working American whose young daughter and friend are kidnapped while playing on the street during Thanksgiving. Although the title alludes to the girls’ situation, there’s more to it once the main suspect, Alex Jones (Paul Dano), is apprehended early on. After he is let out because of the lack of evidence, Dover takes matters into his own hands, causing friction between his family and the person in charge of finding them, detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal). His brutal methods may not be the smartest of actions, however, it does lead him and Loki to solve a long-running crime within the community.
With its distressing subject matter, Prisoners is a film that wants to be taken seriously – and to a certain extent it does succeed. The girls’ early disappearance creates a gritty and anxiety-filled atmosphere, elevated by Jackman’s acting who clearly knows how it would feel to have a missing child. The backdrop of constant rain always helps add to the bleakness of the situation but story-wise, it never really kicks in. As soon as Dover goes to the extreme as a vigilante, followed up by the ending being connected to religion, it turns into an implausible run-of-the-mill thriller.
The same could be said for Gyllenhaal’s character; he starts off as an interesting detective with unusual characteristics, such as constant blinking and visible neck tattoos, yet once it becomes clear not much else will be revealed about him (not that there’s even any need for it anyway), it negates a lot of curiosity, thus turning him into just a figure of authority. The supporting cast lack substance too; Terence Howard and Viola Davis, whose daughter is also taken, are underused, and Mario Bello, excellent as a mother in A History of Violence, completely overacts as one here.
So, even though Jackman does his shouty best, Gyllenhaal has his most pensive look, and Dano puts on his creepiest voice, it’s not quite believable or satisfying to place it anywhere near similar thrillers Zodiac or Mystic River. Yet there’s always the appeal of seeing Wolverine without his claws, and while Prisoners may not be the harrowing drama it pertains to be, there is enough intrigue and suspense to keep everyone gripped.