Prisoners: 10 of its worst flaws

Davis delivers

Davis delivers

Prisoners got a lot of hype, a lot of publicity, generally good reviews, and even some award nominations. How, I wonder, can that happen with a film that is not only poorly constructed and poorly made, but poorly— and I think cynically— conceived. Even the acting is merely serviceable, including a performance by the usually flawless Viola Davis, perhaps because she’s a secondary character. To control my temper about this sluggish, mean-spirited, and interminable movie, I’ve confined myself to 10 of its worst flaws, in fittingly muddled order:

The palette

The palette

10. Rain. Constant rain and snow. The story is gloomy, I get it. Does it also have to be relentlessly dark and poorly lit? No, it does not. That approach often hides sloppy production values, which is likely the case here.

9. Speaking of color… the culturally achromatic African-American family is virtually interchangeable in terms of speech patterns, home aesthetics, and everything else, with the white family. It’s suburban blah. Oh, except that Terence Howard’s character plays the trumpet. On the up side, Viola Davis doesn’t cry as much as she did in Doubt, so there’s a lot less snot.

Gyllenhaal, full stop.

Gyllenhaal at work.

8. Okay, I know this will be about as popular as saying that Ryan
Gosling actually looks like a gosling (which he does), but here goes:
Jake Gyllenhaal’s performance reminds me, as his performances usually do, of Dorothy Parker’s remark about a Katharine Hepburn stage performance (The Lake, 1934), that she ran the gamut of emotions from A to B. Given how dumb his character is, Gyllenhaal’s doleful mug almost works. Still, you wish an animal expression would cross his countenance every now and then.

7. Nobody locks their doors. Even after the girls go missing, one of  the possible bad guys walks into each victim’s house, while people are at home, and steals items. Easy peasy.

Dano confesses, but only between interrogations

Dano confesses, but only between interrogations

6. The Paul Dano character endures 10 hours of interrogation by Gyllenhaal, and after he is released, suddenly whispers a clue to Hugh
Jackman (one of the kidnapped girls’ fathers), which no one else can hear, and, as a result, no one believes. The result is Jackman capturing and torturing Dano for a week — and he still won’t talk. Why not? He knows the answers.

Are we to assume he’s a masochist? No evidence suggests that. In fact, all the evidence suggests that his motivation is purely to be a good plot device, to keep the story dragging on. At no point do we understand why he is protecting the real perpetrator.

5. The other suspect, a young man named Bob Taylor, was another kidnapped and abused boy, who now lives in a house where he keeps trunks full of snakes. Evidently, this is to scare the police, and the audience, but it only confuses things and makes a long movie even longer.

Jackman's failed method of persuasion

Jackman’s failed method of persuasion

4. Sadism. I don’t refer to Hugh Jackman’s torture of Paul Dano. No. I refer to the writer, Aaron Guzikowski, and the director, Dennis Villeneuve, who stretch this preposterous and violent story out to 153

3. Paul Dano in captivity for six or seven days. No water–oh, except for the alternate boiling and icy showers. No food. No way.

2. When was the last time you watched any decent film, or TV show for that matter, where a sensational headline-grabbing crime is investigated by one – count him, one – detective. This small town may have limited resources, but when two young girls go missing, even a two-man department puts both men on it. When Jackman blames Gyllenhaal personally for not finding the girls quickly, it took a few seconds for my eyes to roll back into place.

It's YOUR fault.

It’s YOUR fault.

1. Motivation. While we drown in motivation for Jackman’s vigilante
act, only the thinnest motivation is  provided for the crime(s):  the perpetrators are “waging a war on God” because their son died. Well, that’s as good a trumped-up reason for this piece of violent vigilante fiction as any, I suppose. It hardly mattered, however, because by the time the movie is over, my combined relief and apathy were so great that all I wanted was escape. If I’d had a toy whistle, like his daughter, I’d have been just like Hugh Jackman at that point.

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