Prisoners (2013 film)
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Denis Villeneuve|
|Written by||Aaron Guzikowski|
|Music by||Jóhann Jóhannsson|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros. Pictures|
|Box office||$122.1 million|
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. It is Villeneuve's first English-language feature film.
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 $122 million worldwide. It was chosen by National Board of Review as one of the top ten films of 2013 and at the 86th Academy Awards was nominated for Best Cinematography.
In suburban Pennsylvania, Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman), his wife Grace, their teenage son Ralph and young daughter Anna attend a Thanksgiving dinner at the home of their friends, Franklin Birch (Terrence Howard) and his wife Nancy (Viola Davis), their teenage daughter Eliza and young daughter Joy. The four children go for a walk in the neighborhood and approach an RV that is parked outside a house nearby. There is music playing, which suggests there is somebody inside. After dinner, Anna and Joy go missing.
Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) is informed and starts a search. He locates the RV, which is found parked at a gas station. As police surround the vehicle, the driver, Alex Jones, starts the vehicle and crashes into a nearby tree. He is subsequently arrested and taken away. Alex has the IQ of a 10-year-old, and appears confused when being questioned at the police station. His vehicle is searched by forensics but nothing is found relating to the girls. Pursuing other leads, Loki discovers a corpse in the basement of Patrick Dunn, a priest. Dunn admits that he killed the man because the man confessed he was "waging a war against God" and had killed 16 children and said that he would kill more.
As the search continues, Dover is informed that Alex has been released and attacks him outside the police station. Alex whispers to him, "They didn't cry until I left them." Since Loki won't re-arrest Alex, and Dover hears Alex singing the same ditty as Anna, Dover abducts him, locks him up in his late father's abandoned home and tortures him—with the help of a reluctant Franklin—to force him to talk. First he beats him, but Alex says nothing. Dover ties him up in the shower and uses plywood to enclose him in the dark. He adjusts the water so the shower is either scorching hot or freezing to further torture him.
At a candlelight vigil for the girls, Loki sees a suspicious hooded man, who flees when Loki approaches him. Later on, the man breaks into both families' houses but leaves without doing anything. Loki follows Dover to where Alex is being held prisoner but doesn't find him, as Dover fabricates a story about stopping over in the building so he's able to drink to ease his suffering without his wife knowing. A store clerk recognizes the hooded man from a composite drawing and reports him to Loki after seeing him buying children's clothing. The suspect, Bob Taylor, is later arrested at his home, where the walls are covered in drawings of mazes. Loki then finds crates filled with maze books, live snakes, and bloodied children's clothing, including items belonging to the missing girls. They discover Taylor had himself been abducted as a child. At the police station, Taylor confesses to the abduction but during a physical altercation with Loki and two other officers, he snatches a gun and kills himself without revealing any more information. The police conclude that Taylor was a fantasist and had no involvement with the disappearances; he stole the clothes from the girls' homes and bloodied them with pig's blood to recreate abductions.
Dover continues to torture Alex, who incoherently talks about escaping from a maze. Dover visits Alex's aunt, Holly, who tells him that Alex is the way he is because he had an accident with snakes her husband kept as pets when he was younger. She also says that she and her husband were religious until their young son died of cancer. Back at the police station, Loki becomes frustrated with getting nowhere with the case until he matches a maze Taylor drew while in custody to the maze necklace worn by the man Patrick Dunn killed in his basement.
Suddenly, Joy Birch is found drugged but alive. Dover visits her in the hospital to ask for information. Her memories are confused but she mumbles, "You were there," to Dover. He then realizes that Joy may have heard his voice at the Joneses' house when he visited Holly, and runs from the police. Loki searches for Dover at the apartment building and discovers Alex. Dover then goes back to the Joneses' house to get information from Holly, but she pulls a gun on him. She explains that, before her husband left her, they abducted many children as part of their "war on God" to avenge their son's death. Alex was the first child they abducted, followed by Taylor. Alex just took the girls for a ride, and Holly decided to abduct them. Holly shoots Dover in the leg and imprisons him in a concealed pit in her yard, where he finds the emergency whistle belonging to his daughter.
Loki goes to the Joneses' house to tell her that her nephew has been found. He finds a photograph of Holly's husband wearing the same maze necklace found on the body in the priest's basement, making him her missing husband. Loki finds Holly drugging Anna, and they exchange gunfire. Loki is wounded, and Holly is killed. Loki then rushes Anna to the hospital where she reunites with her mother. Alex is reunited with his parents after surviving the torture. A day later, Loki returns to the Joneses' house where the authorities have begun excavating the property. As the forensic investigators depart for the night, Loki hears Dover's labored blowing on the whistle from the pit.
- Hugh Jackman as Keller Dover
- Jake Gyllenhaal as Detective Loki
- Viola Davis as Nancy Birch
- Maria Bello as Grace Dover
- Terrence Howard as Franklin Birch
- Melissa Leo as Holly Jones
- Paul Dano as Alex Jones
- Dennis Christopher as Mr. Jones
- Dylan Minnette as Ralph Dover
- Zoë Soul as Eliza Birch
- Erin Gerasimovich as Anna Dover
- Kyla-Drew Simmons as Joy Birch
- Wayne Duvall as Captain Richard O'Malley
- Len Cariou as Father Patrick Dunn
- David Dastmalchian as Bob Taylor
- Jeff Pope as Elliot Milland
Aaron Guzikowski wrote the script based on a short story he wrote, partially inspired by "The Tell-Tale Heart", involving "a father whose kid was struck by a hit and run driver and then puts this guy in a well in his backyard." 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. 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." Principal photography began in Georgia in February 2013.
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. 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.
Prisoners received generally positive reviews from film critics, who in particular praised the performance of Gyllenhaal. On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, it has a score of 82% based on 238 reviews, with a rating average of 7.3/10. The site's critical consensus states: "Prisoners has an emotional complexity and a sense of dread that makes for absorbing (and disturbing) viewing." On Metacritic, the film has a score of 74 out of 100 based on 46 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews."
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." 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." 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."
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.
Reviews were not universally positive, however. Writing in The New Republic, David Thompson 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." A mixed review came from Sheila O'Malley of RogerEbert.com, 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."
Top ten lists
Prisoners was listed on various critics' top ten lists.
- 1st – Nigel M. Smith, Indiewire
- 2nd – Rex Reed, The New York Observer
- 5th – Justin Robar, BridgewatersFinest
- 6th – Kyle Smith, New York Post
- 7th – James Berardinelli, Reelviews
- 7th – Barbara Vancheri, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
- 9th – Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly
- Top 10 (listed alphabetically, not ranked) – Calvin Wilson, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
|1.||"The Lord's Prayer"||Jóhann Jóhannsson||2:31|
|2.||"I Can't Find Them"||Jóhann Jóhannsson||4:09|
|3.||"The Search Party"||Jóhann Jóhannsson||2:54|
|4.||"Surveillance Video"||Jóhann Jóhannsson||3:34|
|5.||"The Candlelight Vigil"||Jóhann Jóhannsson||5:10|
|7.||"The Tall Man"||Jóhann Jóhannsson||2:47|
|8.||"The Everyday Bible"||Jóhann Jóhannsson||2:23|
|9.||"Following Keller"||Jóhann Jóhannsson||2:11|
|10.||"Through Falling Snow"||Jóhann Jóhannsson||2:44|
|11.||"The Keeper"||Jóhann Jóhannsson||2:49|
|12.||"The Intruder"||Jóhann Jóhannsson||3:11|
|13.||"The Priest's Basement"||Jóhann Jóhannsson||2:48|
|14.||"The Snakes"||Jóhann Jóhannsson||2:51|
|15.||"The Trans Am"||Jóhann Jóhannsson||2:37|
- The Secret in Their Eyes, an Argentine-Spanish film which includes a theme of suspect kidnapping.
- Secret in Their Eyes, its American remake.
- "PRISONERS (15)". E1 Films. British Board of Film Classification. September 13, 2013. Retrieved September 13, 2013.
- "Prisoners (2013)". Box Office Mojo. IMDb. Retrieved January 10, 2014.
- "Hugh Jackman to Star in Vigilante Thriller PRISONERS for November 2013 Release". Collider.com. March 15, 2012. Retrieved March 4, 2013.
- Giroux, Jack. "Interview: The Back-to-Basics Brutality of 'Prisoners'". Retrieved July 28, 2017.
- "Prisoners (2013)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango. Retrieved October 27, 2018.
- "Prisoners (2013)". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved September 17, 2013.
- Travers, Peter (2013). 'Prisoners' Review, RollingStone.com, accessed January 27, 2017
- Feinberg, Scott (September 23, 2013). "Jake Gyllenhaal to Receive Acting Honor at Hollywood Film Awards (Exclusive)". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved April 4, 2014.
- Thompson, David (2013). 'Prisoners' and the Rotten State of Hollywood, NewRepublic.com, accessed January 27, 2017
- O'Malley, Sheila (2013). Prisoners review, RogerEbert.com, accessed January 27, 2017
- "Catalog: Audio/Visual – Winners". Key Art Awards. Archived from the original on December 13, 2013. Retrieved April 4, 2014.
- 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.
- "Prisoners Soundtrack". SoundtrackMania.com. Retrieved August 1, 2014.
- "Prisoners Soundtrack". Soundtrack.Net. Retrieved August 1, 2014.
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