Sometimes you look at the plot synopsis or the trailer for a movie, and figure you've got it pretty much figured out already, and some way or another, it manages to completely blind-side you. That is exactly the case with Prisoners, as you won't be prepared for just how far into the darkness this movie is going to take you.
It's Thanksgiving, and Keller (Hugh Jackman), Grace (Maria Bello) and their kids are heading over to their neighbours Franklin (Terence Howard) and Nancy's (Viola Davis) to celebrate. While the adults are relaxing, their kids are out playing, and it's not long before they're being missed. A quick search later, and the police are called in, with prime suspect Alex Jones (Paul Dano) being questioned by Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal), but with no evidence to hold him, he is released from custody. But Franklin, torn up inside by distress, has alternative plans for Alex.
From this point on, every time you think you've got a handle on where the film is going, it pulls the rug out from under you, and manages to remain one step ahead for most of its running time. Delving into the depths that good people will go to in order to stop evil, as well as the different ways that people react to a horrific situation, Prisoners will put your emotion responses through the trenches, making you question and double-guess who you should be rooting behind.
There are some little niggly points throughout – at just over two and a half hours there feels like there's about ten minutes of fat in there somewhere, and some of the plot points blur the lines between serious police procedural drama and pulpy crime thriller – but they are constantly being overshadowed by the career best performances by Jackman and Gyllenhaal, and the absolutely gorgeous cinematography by Roger Deakins.
This is the English language debut of Denis Villeneuve, and we can't wait to see what he does next. An utterly compelling, engrossing, beautiful and unsettling film, Prisoners is one of the best movies of the year.