Well-acted and superbly crafted but a little long at more than 150 minutes, “Prisoners” tests the audience’s will to endure an emotional journey while trying to unravel the mystery.
Director Denis Villeneuve and screenwriter Aaron Guzikowski (“Contraband”) have mostly succeeded in putting together a story that is gripping and intense and an actors’ showcase, but they are faulty in having extended scenes that could have been streamlined. This movie is about 30 minutes longer than it needs to be.
Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal provide the emotional core in “Prisoners” as two men equally driven but with opposite temperaments. Jackman’s Keller Dover is a husband and father with strong religious convictions and family values — a man whose existence centers around being a steadfast protector of his wife and children.
Gyllenhaal’s Det. Loki is a dedicated and meticulous police officer, patient and focused — a man with no family, thus totally committed to his job.
These two very forceful personalities are brought together on a Thanksgiving evening when, during a gathering of the Dovers at the home of their friends Franklin and Nancy Birch (Terrence Howard and Viola Davis), the two youngest daughters in each family, taking a walk back to the Dover house, disappear.
The only clue to the girls’ disappearance is a mysterious and grimy camper seen parked in the area earlier. Loki, dining alone at a Chinese restaurant — one of the few places open on Thanksgiving — is nearby when the call comes in about the suspected abduction and the camper, and is on hand when the camper is found.
Inside the camper is a young man named Alex Jones (Paul Dano), who at first seems like a perfect suspect. However, he appears to be mentally disabled, and there is no sign of the girls. Loki interrogates Alex but cannot extract any useful information from him on the location of the girls. The camper is picked clean by forensics people who find no evidence the girls were in the vehicle.
Loki, who has a reputation for solving all of his cases, contains his intensity, although a nervous eye-tick and a short fuse when dealing with his superior, Capt. O’Malley (Wayne Duvall) belie his calm, cool exterior. To his frustration, there is not enough evidence to continue to hold Alex, who is released.
This of course sets off Keller, whose wife Grace (Maria Bello) has fallen apart and pretty much rendered into a stupor via medication. Desperate, Keller takes matters into his own hands, making a very reluctant Franklin an accessory to his efforts.
The depth of “Prisoners” is that in addition to being a riveting crime thriller, it is also a character study. All of the characters are laid out there raw, their actions totally human — often irrational with some moments of clarity. Even Dano’s Alex, at times seemingly a personification of evil in an emotionally immature framework, garners some sympathy.
Every actor in “Prisoners” has at least one showcase moment, including Melissa Leo as Alex’ devoted aunt Holly Jones. But it is the interplay of Jackman and Gyllenhaal, two hefty personalities in their characters, who compound the emotional power of this movie.
Shriekfest, the annual horror/science fiction film festival and screenplay competition is set for Oct. 4-6 at the Chaplin Theater in Los Angeles. Screenings will begin at 7 p.m Friday, Oct. 4, with screenings starting at noon on Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 5-6. An awards show begins 10 p.m. Sunday. www.shriekfest.com.
Also: Son of Monsterpalooza will take place Oct. 11-13 at the Marriott Burbank Airport Hotel and Convention Center. Featured guests will include the cast of “Killer Klowns from Outer Space,” Nastassja Kinski (“Cat People”), Dee Wallace (“The Howling,” “Lords of Salem”) Jeffrey Combs (“Re-Animator”), Lisa Loring (“The Addams Family” television show), Russell Streiner (“Night of the Living Dead”), Bela Lugosi Jr. and Victoria Price, daughter of Vincent Price.
Tickets are $20 per day — $25 at the door on Saturday — or $50 for a three-day pass. www.monsterpalooza.com