“Death Wish,” the Charles Bronson revenge drama, painted its main character as a vigilante hero, someone who evened the score when the police couldn’t.
“Prisoners,” a new child abduction drama starring Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal and Terrence Howard, isn’t as cut and dried. It asks the question, How far would you go to get the information you need to protect your family?
The story is fairly simple. Best friends Keller and Grace Dover (Jackman and Maria Bello), Franklin and Nancy Birch (Terrence Howard and Viola Davis) and their kids spend Thanksgiving together. After dinner the youngest members of the family, Anna Dover (Erin Gerasimovich) and Joy Birch (Kyla Drew Simmons) go for a walk and never return.
Panicked, the family search the neighborhood and when they come up empty the police are called with a description of the girls and a suspicious RV that was seen in the area. The camper is racked down and Detective Loki (Gyllenhaal) arrests a suspect, Alex Jones (Paul Dano).
Keller is convinced the police have the right man and when Alex is released, he takes matters into his own hands. Kidnapping Jones, he tries to beat a confession out of him. When that doesn’t work his methods escalate.
There is a serial killer subplot woven into “Prisoners,” but it detracts from the core element that makes the movie interesting. Jackman brings the full weight of Keller’s anguish to the screen, and his performance carries with it the moral dilemma of the movie. The serial killer element feels tacked on, as though screenwriter Aaron Guzikowski felt he needed to up the tension with a “Criminal Minds” style plot twist.
It’s too bad, because the last hour—the movie clocks in at 150 minutes—feels unnecessary. The procedural elements is interesting until the red herrings start and the movie moves away from the ethical question that propelled the first half.
“Prisoners” is compelling stuff. At its heart it is a family drama with a twist. But as is, it almost feels like two movies.
3 ½ STARS