Desperate Dad

Hugh Jackman hunts for his stolen daughter in ‘Prisoners’

By Lori Hoffman
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Sep. 18, 2013

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Hugh Jackman in 'Prisoners.'

Photo by Wilson Web

Prisoners, directed by Denis Villeneuve, with a script by Aaron Guzikowski, is a more intense take on the subject of child abduction than we’re used to seeing on say, an episode of Criminal Minds.

Hugh Jackman stars as a father who refuses to sit back and do nothing when his young daughter and her best friend disappear on a Thanksgiving night when the two families involved are sharing a holiday meal together. Keller and Grace Dover’s (Jackman, Maria Bello) daughter is taken along with the daughter of their good friends Franklin and Nancy Birch (Terrence Howard, Viola Davis).

The Birch’s’ terror is more introspective and Grace needs a sedative to battle her emotional upheaval, but Keller, who is a survivalist, uses rage as his tool to deal with this situation. He channels the mindset of 24’s Jack Bauer, doing anything and everything to finds his daughter which finds him butting heads with lead detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal), who feels the interference, while understandable, is making his job tougher.

When Teller goes over the line and kidnaps the prime suspect, Alex Jones (Paul Dano), who has been questioned and released, it brings the audience into the debate of how far would they go to find a loved one.

The brutality and torture displayed by the “hero” of this piece makes for several uncomfortable moments. We only have Keller’s word that the suspect revealed himself in a whispered moment. When Keller can’t get him to admit his guilt in the face of horrifying torture, we begin to feel our emotions swinging in a different direction.

There is one moment when Keller’s obsession overcomes his common sense so outrageously that it pulled me out of the story, distressed that he would continue his lone wolf act when he had a concrete lead that Loki needed to know about. However, his desire to save his little girl himself is the one motivation that keeps him from letting common sense temper his rage.

Jackman is scary turning his grief into action, and there are terrific performances by Gyllenhaal, Dano and Melissa Leo as a woman with a secret that changes everything.

Jackman on ‘Prisoners’

At the Toronto Film Festival, star Hugh Jackman talked about the role. “I loved the script, but it could have become a more generic thriller. In Denis’ hands [director Denis Villeneuve] it became more ambitious, not just a gripping, end-of-your-seat thriller, but a film that makes you contemplates its theme for days after on many levels.”

Asked about a possible Oscar nomination for his intense performance, he notes, “As an actor, my [initial goal] was to be able to pay my rent by acting. Now [with the Oscar talk] I’m just thrilled that people are seeing the ambition of this movie, a movie that is timely and important. We make stories for audiences, so we can connect and have something to talk about and think about. Part of the research I did was finding out what really happens in [child abduction] cases. What happens in day one, day two. As I dove into these stories and watched videos of families, I felt responsible to treat this subject with respect. I didn’t want to glorify it in any way. This relates to fears that all of us [as parents] collectively have. That’s why the film is cathartic to watch. Hopefully, we did the subject justice.” 

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