Even if you aren't a parent, you will know what it's like to be one by the end of "Prisoners."
Two stars headline Denis Villeneuve's "Prisoners":Hugh Jackman ("The Wolverine") plays Keller Dover, a blue collar father of two, and Jake Gyllenhaal("Love & Other Drugs") plays Detective Loki, a police detective in a small town. Do not reminisce on their earlier work, particularly Jackman's image as Wolverine; their performances in this film are the best of their careers.
The movie follows a modest and devoutly religious father whose daughter is kidnapped without any leads, other than a mysterious RV parked in the neighborhood just minutes earlier.
As a movie-going audience, we have been desensitized to family kidnappings (see "Taken") as subjects for cheap and ridiculous action flicks. However, this film combines a kidnapping movie and a tried-and-true detective thriller. We have seen these stories before, but "Prisoners"' dramatic storytelling lets it stand well above the rest. It is a shimmering and dreadful example of cinematic arts.
As a detective film, it's no spoiler to say the clues are all there, but the environment and intensity of the situation makes finding them as difficult as possible. As wind blows and snow and rain fall, the details are drowned out and obscured. We have a great desire to see the world clearly, but every window is fogged and sunshine never penetrates the overcast skies. In a small town, finding your daughter should be easy; yet the more you look, the more she eludes you. Even Detective Loki, whose job is to find all the answers (a tattoo of a sun is on his neck), struggles to bring light to the mystery. Even if you do find every clue, the film plays out unpredictably. That's why the film is dreadful; fear and anxiety consume your heart with every cinematic minute.
So many questions are brought to life during the film. How soon would you stop relying on faith and take matters into your own hands? Would you bypass legal, religious, and moral constraints to save your child? By the film's end, we are ultimately pressed: how far would you go to save a loved one?
As you ponder these questions, you see that "Prisoners" has shown you how it is to be a mother or father. You will have a paradigm shift as you reflect on your childhood and see why your parents would hug you so tightly. The film will tax your emotions and you will leave the theater exhausted and drained. As negative as it sounds, this is healthy; it's what great films should do for the soul.
"Prisoners" is a stomach-turning nightmare captured on film. It frightens you. It repulses you. It consumes you. Yet this is a nightmare every human being must experience. Watch it.
This article originally appeared in Neon Tommy on September 21, 2013.