Year Released: 2013
Directed by: Denis Villeneuve
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Paul Dano
(R. 146 min.)
Genre: Mystery and Suspense, Action and Adventure
Malice sucks up the greater part of its own venom and poisons itself.” Michel de Montaigne
Crewed by a stellar cast and fueled by a high-octane plot, this thriller takes off flawlessly and pilots the many plot twists like a World War II Spitfire with an ace in the cockpit.
On the surface, this is a dark thriller about every parent’s worst nightmare – the abduction of their child, a murky mystery that rivals classics like Zodiac , The Sixth Sense, The Silence of the Lambs, and Se7en.
And as such, Prisoners delivers, leading the audience through a labyrinth of false leads and dead ends along with the lone detective pursuing the case (Jake Guillenhaal), until we can taste his frustration. At other times we are as furious as Keller Dover, (Hugh Jackman) the panicked father, who sees the man he is certain has taken his daughter released by the police. Too bad only Dover hears what certainly seems like a confession coming from his lips.
But this isn’t like those formulaic television detective series where rapid, slap dash plot twists take away our breath so we are too dazed to realize their hollow logic. The intricate details of this mystery do come in rapid fire at times, but the logic that hangs them all together is tight and true. What first appear as disjointed elements – a dead body found in the cellar of a former priest and sex offender, an aged video tape of an abducted child, the friendly rambling of an adoptive aunt – ultimately lead us out of this labyrinth, even if that doesn’t occur until hours or days after leaving the cinema.
But what will resonate beyond the well-crafted plot are the deeper meanings embedded underneath the mystery. Take the title, for example, which at first glance seems merely a description of the two abducted girls. But they are just the most obvious of the many prisoners revealed in this film. Some other prisoners are or have been held captive in small places, but others are prisoners of their own psyche, turning the bitter bile of tragedy into something as venomous as the slithering snakes found in boxes of bloody child’s clothing at one suspect’s house.
The world is frozen or blurred, alternating between cold torrents of rain and prim blankets of snow that obscure and confound. All that is part of the greater duality revealed here. Our lead detective, who curiously works without a partner – I choose to believe it is due to the town’s very limited police budget rather than inaccuracy on the screenwriter’s part – is a piece of work himself. He sports several tattoos – a maze on his neck, a small cross on his hand, and the signs of the zodiac on his fingers. (Since these ideas came from the actor himself, one cannot help but wonder it this latter tattoo is a sly allusion to Guillenhaal’s role in the 2007 film Zodiac, where he plays shy cartoonist obsessed with puzzles and determined to find California’s infamous serial killer.)
Guillenhaal’s detective Loki in this film alludes to a past of abandonment and abuse, perhaps the reason behind an obsessive work ethic that keeps him sleepless at night going over surveillance tapes. He is both the hunter and the hunted, or at least the haunted. No wonder he has those weird facial ticks and compulsive, blinking eyes.
Keller Dover’s duality is not as subtle, and in fact, reeks of the typical Hollywood-imposed stereotype of a religious hypocrite. He says the Lord’s Prayer just before his son shoots the deer in his rifle sight, and his basement, with its bottled water, guns and generators, is a survivalist’s mecca. Like Jesus, he is a carpenter, but the little wooden box he puts together in an abandoned building is anything but Christ-like in its purpose.
This is not a film for the squeamish, and it ends on a note of ambiguity and dissonance like Igor Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, which caused a riot at its Paris opening in 1913. A century later, you may feel the same frustration. Or perhaps, like my husband, you will conclude that the final scene is the perfect fit.
The film opens with Keller Dover and his son Ralph deer hunting. The venison will be a the family's unique contribution to a traditional Thanksgiving feast, which they celebrate with their good friends and neighbors, the Birches. But the gathering turns as icy and chill as the weather when both families discover their young daughters are missing
Let’s take them back to that meal before that awful shock and remember what we are grateful for as well. Here are some great recipes already posted on this site:
Our featured recipe is for Delicious Pan Seared Venison with Wild Mushrooms from Different Drummer’s own Appetite for Murder: A Mystery Lover’s Cookbook. Download a free sample of the cookbook here.
It would make a perfect Christmas gift for anyone who loves mysteries or cooking.
Pan Seared Venison with Wild Mushrooms
1 cups beef or veal stock
2 tablespoons minced shallots
4 ounces brandy
4 tablespoons catsup
1 tablespoon chili flakes
1/4 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
Place stock in a heavy saucepan. Over medium heat, reduce by 1/2. Add remaining ingredients, return to a boil, reduce by 1/2. Place ingredients in a blender and puree until smooth. Set aside.
1 large tart apple, cored
2 teaspoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup wild mushrooms, chopped
1 tablespoon mined garlic
1 teaspoon minced green onion
1 pound venison tenderloin
4 teaspoons nonfat yogurt
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Slice apple into 8 thin slices. Spray a nonstick sauté pan with cooking spray. Melt 1 teaspoon butter over medium heat. Sauté apples until lightly browned on both sides. Set aside. Melt remaining butter in pan. Add wild mushrooms, garlic, and green onion. Sauté until tender (approximately 2 minutes.) Remove from pan and set aside.
Return pan to stove; increase heat to high. Lightly salt and pepper venison tenderloin. When pan is very hot, place tenderloin in pan and sear all sides until browned. Place pan in preheated oven for 6-8 minutes, or until cooked to taste. Remove venison from oven and allow to set several minutes. Slice venison (on the bias) into 8 equal slices. Place 2 slices apple on each heated plate. Arrange 2 slices venison on apples. Drizzle venison with sauce; top with mushroom mixture. Top each with a spoonful of yogurt.