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 date
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] 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 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, Keller Dover, his wife Grace, son Ralph, and daughter Anna celebrate Thanksgiving with their friends Franklin and Nancy Birch, and their daughters Eliza and Joy. The four children go for a walk, and Anna and Joy play on a parked RV. After dinner, the two go missing. Detective Loki responds to a police call that an RV matching the description is at the edge of the woods, and arrests the man inside, Alex Jones.

During interrogation, Loki realizes Alex's diminished IQ prevents him from planning a kidnapping and learns that his RV contains no forensic evidence of the missing girls. Loki runs down leads on local pedophiles and finds a corpse in the house of Father Patrick Dunn. Dunn admits to killing the man after he confessed to murdering 16 children for his "war on God".

The police captain releases Alex to his aunt, Holly. Convinced of Alex's guilt, Keller assaults him outside the police station, where Alex whispers to him, "they didn't cry until I left them". After Loki finds no proof of this, Keller kidnaps Alex. Along with a very reluctant Franklin, Keller begins to torture Alex in an empty building Keller owns.

At a vigil for the girls, Loki approaches a suspicious man who flees. Loki releases a sketch of him to the community. The suspect sneaks into the Birch and Dover houses. Grace hears him and calls Loki, who learns while investigating that Keller spends his nights away from home. He tails Keller to the empty building, where Keller claims he goes to drink, but Loki doesn’t find Alex. Loki tracks down the suspect, Bob Taylor, at his house. The walls are covered in maze drawings and Loki opens crates filled with snakes and bloody children’s clothes.

At the police station, Taylor confesses, and Loki discovers he was abducted as a child. As Taylor draws detailed mazes, Loki assaults him and demands the location of the girls. Two other officers pull him off Taylor. During the struggle Taylor grabs an officer's gun and kills himself. Loki shows the Birch parents and Keller photos of the bloody clothes, and they identify several as Joy's and Anna's. Later Keller tells his son that they aren’t dead.

Keller continues torturing Alex, who cryptically talks about escaping from a maze. Keller visits Holly, learning that Alex's intellectual disability comes from a childhood accident involving the pet snakes her husband kept. While devoutly religious, Holly and her husband lost their faith after their son died of cancer, and adopted Alex as a way to cope.

Loki matches the maze pattern in Taylor's drawings to a necklace worn by the corpse in Dunn's house. At Taylor’s house, Loki learns that many of the bloody clothes were store-bought and soaked with pigs blood. Below a window outside the Dover house, Loki finds Taylor’s footprints and the same kind of sock Keller identified from Taylor’s house.

When the drugged Anna and Joy attempt an escape, Anna is caught while Joy gets away. Joy is found and hospitalized. When Keller grills a woozy Joy for information, she remembers little, but tells him, "you were there; it put tape on our mouths". He rushes out, realizing she saw him at Holly’s house, when he visited to apologize for assaulting Alex outside of the police station. Loki gives chase and travels to Keller's building expecting to find him, but instead finds Alex.

Keller goes to Holly’s, telling her, "I don’t want to have to hurt you", but she pulls a gun. She explains that before her husband disappeared, they abducted children as part of their war on God to avenge their son's death, and to create demons out of the traumatized parents. Alex was their first abduction, Taylor their second. Holly imprisons Keller in a hidden pit in her yard, where he finds his daughter’s whistle.

Loki enters Holly’s house to inform her Alex has been found. Seeing a photo of the late husband wearing the same maze necklace as the corpse in Dunn's basement, he searches for Holly, who is giving Anna an injection. Loki and Holly exchange gunfire, leaving Holly dead and Loki injured. Loki takes Anna to the hospital.

A recuperating Anna and Joy visit a bandaged Loki in his hospital room to thank him. Grace acknowledges that Keller will be sent to prison if he is found. Loki returns to Holly's house, where he faintly hears a whistle blowing.



Aaron Guzikowski wrote the script based on a short story he wrote, partially inspired by Edgar Allan Poe's "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".[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]

Reviews have not been all positive. 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. "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. ^
  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. ^ Pamela McClintock (October 18, 2013). "CinemaScore in Retreat as Studios Turn to PostTrak". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 2019-01-28.
  16. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2018-12-20. Retrieved 2019-01-28.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  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]