Prisoners (2013 film)

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Theatrical release poster
Directed byDenis Villeneuve
Written byAaron Guzikowski
Produced by
CinematographyRoger A. Deakins
Edited by
Music byJóhann Jóhannsson
Distributed byWarner Bros. Pictures
(United States)
Summit Entertainment
Release dates
Running time
153 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Budget$46 million[2]
Box office$122.1 million[2]

Prisoners is a 2013 American thriller film directed by Denis Villeneuve from a screenplay written by Aaron Guzikowski. The film has an ensemble cast including Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis, Maria Bello, Terrence Howard, Melissa Leo, and Paul Dano.[3]

The plot focuses on the abduction of two young girls in Pennsylvania and the subsequent search for the suspected abductor by the police. After police arrest a young suspect and release him, the father of one of the daughters takes matters into his own hands. The film was a financial and critical success, grossing US$122 million worldwide. It was chosen by the National Board of Review as one of the top ten films of 2013, and at the 86th Academy Awards, it was nominated for Best Cinematography.


In Pennsylvania, carpenter Keller Dover and his family visit their neighbors the Birches for Thanksgiving. That evening, the families' daughters, Anna and Joy, disappear. Detective Loki arrests Alex Jones, a man driving the RV pointed out by Keller's son. Loki then visits Alex's home where he lives with his aunt Holly, after getting no information via interrogation. Loki then later reveals to the Dovers that Alex is intellectually disabled with an IQ of a 10 year old and no physical evidence has been found in the RV or his home.

Loki investigates local sex offender and former priest Patrick Dunn, where he finds a corpse in a hidden cellar. Dunn reveals he killed the man after he confessed to murdering sixteen children. The following day, Alex is released. Convinced of his guilt, Keller assaults Alex outside the police station, during which Alex says "They didn't cry 'til I left them". Based on this, as well as an incident in which Keller witnessed Alex abusing his dog and singing a song Anna and Joy had been singing, Keller kidnaps and holds Alex captive in his childhood home. Joy's father Franklin reluctantly accompanies Keller in interrogating and torturing Alex over the course of several days; his wife Nancy convinces Franklin to stop, but decides not to turn in Keller.

Loki visits the previous owner of the empty home the RV was seen parked in front of, Mrs. Milland. She tells him that her son Barry was kidnapped 26 years prior and was never found. During a vigil for Anna and Joy, Loki chases and fails to apprehend a hooded figure who then burglarizes the Dover and Birch residences; Keller's wife Grace, who has been prescribed medication to deal with the trauma of the kidnapping, notices this. Suspicious of Alex's disappearance, Loki follows Keller to the building but leaves when the hooded man, Bob Taylor, is located. Loki detains Taylor and discovers the walls in his home are covered in maze drawings. He stumbles upon several locked crates filled with snakes and bloody clothing. Taylor confesses to the kidnappings and draws mazes in his interrogation room. Frustrated, Loki assaults him, but Taylor gains control of another officer's gun and commits suicide.

The Dover and Birch families identify photos of the bloodied clothing as their children's. Keller visits Holly to apologize for assaulting Alex. He learns she and her late husband adopted Alex after their son died of cancer. Meanwhile, Loki notices a resemblance between one of Taylor's mazes and a necklace belonging to the corpse in Dunn's basement. He is informed that most of the bloody clothes were store-bought and soaked with pig blood. He also finds Taylor's footprints below a window at the Dover house, along with Anna's sock.

Joy is found and reunited with her parents, and is hospitalized; the two children were drugged and staged an escape, but Anna was caught. When Keller asks Joy for information, she remembers little, but says she saw him there. Keller realizes she saw him at Holly's house and flees. Loki travels to Keller's building to find him, but instead finds Alex.

Keller arrives at Holly's and she holds him at gunpoint. She reveals that she and her husband abducted children of Christian families as a "war on God" to avenge their son's death and make similar families feel the same crisis of faith. Alex (Barry Milland) was their first abduction and Taylor their second. Holly drugs Keller and imprisons him in a hidden pit in her yard, where he finds his daughter's emergency whistle. Loki arrives at Holly's house to inform her Alex has been found. Seeing a photo of her late husband with the maze necklace, he realizes that Holly is the kidnapper and searches for her, finding her in the process of giving Anna an injection. Loki kills Holly in a shootout and rushes Anna to the hospital while he is suffering from being wounded.

Anna and Joy visit Loki in the hospital to thank him. Grace acknowledges that Keller will be arrested if found, but insists he is a good man. Later, Loki returns to Holly's house, where he faintly hears Keller blowing the whistle.



Aaron Guzikowski wrote the script based on a short story he wrote, involving "a father whose kid was struck by a hit-and-run driver and then puts this guy in a well in his backyard". That short story was partially inspired by Edgar Allan Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart".[4]

After he wrote the spec, many actors and directors entered and exited the project, including actors Christian Bale and Leonardo DiCaprio and directors Antoine Fuqua and Bryan Singer.[4]

Ultimately Guzikowski would credit producer Mark Wahlberg for getting the project on its feet, stating, "He was totally pivotal in getting the film made. That endorsement helped it get around."[4] Principal photography began in Georgia in February 2013.[5]


Box office[edit]

Prisoners premiered at the 2013 Telluride Film Festival and was released theatrically in Canada and the United States on September 20, 2013. It was originally rated NC-17 by the MPAA for substantial disturbing violent content and explicit images; after being edited, it was re-rated R for disturbing violent content including torture, and language throughout.[6] Prisoners opened in North America on September 20, 2013, in 3,260 theaters and grossed $20,817,053 in its opening weekend, averaging $6,386 per theater and ranking #1 at the box office. After 77 days in theaters, the film ended up earning $61,002,302 domestically and $61,124,385 internationally, earning a worldwide gross of $122,126,687, above its production budget of $46 million.[2]

Critical response[edit]

On review aggregator web site Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 81% based on 253 reviews, with a rating average of 7.30/10. The website's critical consensus states: "Prisoners has an emotional complexity and a sense of dread that makes for absorbing (and disturbing) viewing."[7] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 70 out of 100, based on 53 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[8]

Christopher Orr of The Atlantic wrote: "Ethical exploration or exploitation? In the end, I come down reservedly on the former side: the work done here by Jackman, Gyllenhaal, and especially Villeneuve is simply too powerful to ignore."[9] Ed Gibbs of The Sun Herald wrote: "Not since Erskineville Kings, in 1999, has Hugh Jackman appeared so emotionally exposed on screen. It is an exceptional, Oscar-worthy performance."[10] Peter Travers of Rolling Stone wrote that Gyllenhaal was "exceptional" and that "Villeneuve takes his unflashy time building character and revealing troubled psyches in the most unlikely of places."[11]

The film was a second runner-up for the BlackBerry People's Choice Award at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival, behind Philomena and 12 Years a Slave. Gyllenhaal received the Best Supporting Actor of the Year Award at the 2013 Hollywood Film Festival for his "truly compelling, subtly layered" performance as Detective Loki.[12]

Not all reviews were positive, however. Writing in The New Republic, David Thomson declared that the film was "weary after ten minutes" and furthermore "hideous, cruel, degrading, depressing, relentless, prolonged, humorless, claustrophobic, and a mockery of any surviving tradition in which films are entertaining".[13] A mixed review came from Sheila O'Malley of, who gave the film 2.5 stars out of a possible 4. She wrote that Jackman's performance grew "monotonous" and that the film sometimes verged on pretentiousness, but was redeemed by a few excellent suspense sequences and Gyllenhaal's performance, whose "subtlety is welcome considering all the teeth gnashing going on in other performances".[14]


Audiences polled by CinemaScore initially gave the film a grade "B+" on an A+ to F scale, but Warner Bros asked for a recount by the service and later said the film received a grade "A−".[15][16]

Top ten lists[edit]

Prisoners was listed on various critics' top ten lists.[17]


Award Date of ceremony Category Recipient(s) Result
Academy Awards March 2, 2014 Best Cinematography Roger Deakins Nominated
American Society of Cinematographers February 1, 2014 Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography in Theatrical Releases Nominated
Chicago Film Critics Association December 16, 2013 Best Cinematography Nominated
Critics' Choice Movie Awards January 16, 2014 Best Cinematography Nominated
Empire Awards March 30, 2014 Best Thriller Nominated
Hollywood Film Festival[12] October 21, 2013 Best Supporting Actor Jake Gyllenhaal Won
Key Art Awards[19] October 24, 2013 Best Teaser – Audio/Visual "Ticking" Bronze
Make-Up Artists and Hair Stylists Guild Awards[20] February 15, 2014 Best Contemporary Make-Up Donald Mowat and Pamela Westmore Won
National Board of Review December 4, 2013 Best Cast Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis, Maria Bello, Terrence Howard, Melissa Leo, Paul Dano and Dylan Minnette Won
Top Ten Films Won
People's Choice Awards January 8, 2014 Favorite Dramatic Movie Nominated
San Diego Film Critics Society December 11, 2013 Best Cinematography Roger Deakins Nominated
Best Performance by an Ensemble Nominated
Best Original Screenplay Aaron Guzikowski Nominated
Satellite Awards February 23, 2014 Best Cinematography Roger Deakins Nominated
Best Editing Gary D. Roach and Joel Cox Nominated
Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture Jake Gyllenhaal Nominated
Saturn Awards June 26, 2014 Best Make-up Donald Mowat Won
Best Supporting Actress Melissa Leo Nominated
Best Thriller Film Nominated
Toronto International Film Festival September 15, 2013 People's Choice Award Denis Villeneuve 3rd Place
Washington D.C. Area Film Critics Association December 9, 2013 Best Ensemble Nominated


The Prisoners soundtrack, composed by Jóhann Jóhannsson, was released on September 20, 2013.[21]

1."The Lord's Prayer"Jóhann Jóhannsson2:31
2."I Can't Find Them"Jóhann Jóhannsson4:09
3."The Search Party"Jóhann Jóhannsson2:54
4."Surveillance Video"Jóhann Jóhannsson3:34
5."The Candlelight Vigil"Jóhann Jóhannsson5:10
6."Escape"Jóhann Jóhannsson5:44
7."The Tall Man"Jóhann Jóhannsson2:47
8."The Everyday Bible"Jóhann Jóhannsson2:23
9."Following Keller"Jóhann Jóhannsson2:11
10."Through Falling Snow"Jóhann Jóhannsson2:44
11."The Keeper"Jóhann Jóhannsson2:49
12."The Intruder"Jóhann Jóhannsson3:11
13."The Priest's Basement"Jóhann Jóhannsson2:48
14."The Snakes"Jóhann Jóhannsson2:51
15."The Trans Am"Jóhann Jóhannsson2:37
16."Prisoners"Jóhann Jóhannsson6:59
Total length:55:00[22]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "PRISONERS (15)". E1 Films. British Board of Film Classification. September 13, 2013. Retrieved September 13, 2013.
  2. ^ a b c "Prisoners (2013)". Box Office Mojo. IMDb. Retrieved 2014-01-10.
  3. ^ "Hugh Jackman to Star in Vigilante Thriller PRISONERS for November 2013 Release". Retrieved March 4, 2013.
  4. ^ a b c Giroux, Jack (20 September 2013). "Interview: The Back-to-Basics Brutality of 'Prisoners'". Retrieved 2017-07-28.
  5. ^ Chitwood, Adam (2013-02-20). Production Begins on Denis Villeneuve’s Thriller PRISONERS, Starring Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal. Collider, 20 February 2013. Retrieved from
  6. ^ Keogh, Joey (2015-11-18). "Not Quite Horror: Prisoners (2013)". Wicker Horror. Retrieved 2020-07-13.
  7. ^ "Prisoners (2013)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango. Retrieved June 22, 2021.
  8. ^ "Prisoners (2013)". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved 2020-05-06.
  9. ^ Orr, Christopher (September 20, 2013). "Prisoners: Moral Exploration or Exploitation?". The Atlantic.
  10. ^ Gibbs, Ed (October 12, 2013). "Prisoners review: Dream performances enliven every parent's worst nightmare". The Sydney Morning Herald.
  11. ^ Travers, Peter (2013). 'Prisoners' Review. Retrieved on 2017-01-27 from
  12. ^ a b Feinberg, Scott (September 23, 2013). "Jake Gyllenhaal to Receive Acting Honor at Hollywood Film Awards (Exclusive)". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved April 4, 2014.
  13. ^ Thomson, David (2013). 'Prisoners' and the Rotten State of Hollywood. Retrieved on 2017-01-27 from
  14. ^ O'Malley, Sheila (2013). Prisoners review. Retrieved on 2017-01-27 from
  15. ^ McClintock, Pamela (October 18, 2013). "CinemaScore in Retreat as Studios Turn to PostTrak". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 2019-01-28.
  16. ^ "Cinemascore :: Movie Title Search". Archived from the original on 2018-12-20. Retrieved 2019-01-28.
  17. ^ "2013 Film Critic Top Ten Lists". Metacritic.
  18. ^ IndieWire Staff (December 25, 2013). "Indiewire's Editors and Bloggers Pick Their Top 10 Films (and In Some Cases TV Shows) of 2013".
  19. ^ "Catalog: Audio/Visual – Winners". Key Art Awards. Archived from the original on December 13, 2013. Retrieved April 4, 2014.
  20. ^ Giardina, Carolyn (February 15, 2014). "Dallas Buyers Club, Bad Grandpa Win at Make-Up Artists and Hair Stylists Awards". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved April 4, 2014.
  21. ^ "Prisoners Soundtrack". Retrieved 2014-08-01.
  22. ^ "Prisoners Soundtrack". Soundtrack.Net. Retrieved 2014-08-01.

External links[edit]