Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Prisoners (2013)

Paul Dano goes full retard in Prisoners

An all-American, God-fearing, independent contractor and Christian survivalist (Hugh Jackman as Keller Dover) goes batshit after his daughter is kidnapped on Thanksgiving, together with the daughter of his best friend and neighbour. He’s so sure that the prime suspect (Paul Dano as a mentally handicapped Alex) did it that when the police release him for lack of evidence, Mr Ordinary Citizen decides to kidnap the suspect himself for some good old-fashioned hurting till he squeals.

The film plays like a double procedural, with Jake Gyllenhaal’s detective slowly piecing together the pieces of the mystery (Who kidnapped the girls? Where are they now?) despite working from a trail of several red herrings while Jackman tortures Paul Dano using increasingly horrific methods and finds out nothing despite working on what seems to be the right man.

At times, Prisoners feels like a horror film. Tight camera angles, bleak landscapes, and all that snow and drizzle summon a sense of dread in the audience. Gyllenhaal, Jackman, and Howard all present different men who are challenged by an elusive truth, who see an existential horror in how their investigations unfold: the detective in his unravelling of a seemingly age-old pattern of kidnappings and eventual societal negligence; the torturer in his realisation that his demonic prisoner will never cooperate, even at the pain of death; the friend looking at the torturer and seeing the demon he’s become, and wondering if prudence is cowardice or tacit approval is complicity.

One might say that Prisoners is a film adaptation of the “Ticking Bomb” thought experiment (made even more notorious in the wake of 9/11), which forwards a consequentialist viewpoint the torture of a suspected terrorist in order to stop a disaster from happening. Like the ‘liberal’ solution to the thought experiment, Prisoners posits that torture is futile, and all dramatic interest lies in the moral event horizons crossed by torturers and their abettors.

At over 2.5 hours, Prisoners is a film whose length isn’t as evident as recent longish films. The script consistently underplays its weighty philosophical and moral issues in exact opposition to the Christopher Nolan method of spelling everything out (themes, exposition) tediously via dialogue and over-foreshadowing plot points. The result is a film that Christopher Nolan might well produce or direct, but looks nothing like a Nolan title.

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