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After last week’s movie theater debacle, I took advantage of a day off and went to see Prisoners at noon on a Friday.  In case you were wondering, it was glorious.  Just me and a dozen retirees.  Fantastic.

Oh, and the movie wasn’t bad either.

Prisoners is looking to be the first film of 2013 that’s absolutely gunning for awards.  Hell, the trailers do a good job of showcasing the talent involved, so it’s no surprise that everyone’s here for a reason.  Hugh Jackman is especially effective, but I’ll get into that in a bit.

We start Prisoners off with a little bit of a life lesson, as Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) is taking his teenage son Ralph (Dylan Minnette) deer hunting.  You see, Keller believes that you have to hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.  In that regard, he’s always ready to teach survival skills and common sense to his kids.

Once we’re done with the opening scene, we watch the entire Dover family–Keller and Ralph, along with wife Grace (Maria Bello) and young daughter Anna (Erin Gerasimovich)–head over to the neighbors for a Thanksgiving feast.

Once there, Keller and Grace settle down to chat and relax with Franklin and Nancy Birch (Terrence Howard and Viola Davis respectively).  The Birches conveniently have two daughters the same age as the Dover children, so Ralph chills out with Eliza (Zoe Borde) and little Anna plays around with Joy (Kyla Drew Simmons).  Got all that?  Good, I’m not repeating myself.

The plot kicks off when Anna and Joy go missing.  They were supposed to get Anna’s brother Ralph to walk them to the Dover house so they could play, but they skipped that step and now….they’re gone.

After a few hours of searching, both families get scared and contact the police.  The lead detective assigned to the case is Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal), and he wastes no time in checking into every lead he’s given.  The first lead is that there was a beat-up old camper parked in the area, and the girls had earlier tried to play around on it.

This takes Loki to the camper as it’s parked at a rest station.  When approached, the driver of the camper tries to get away, but instead drives straight into a tree.  It turns out that said driver is a mentally slow guy named Alex Jones (Paul Dano, who seems to only get cast as creeps and weirdos).  He’s got the mind of a 10 year old, so of course he offers nothing to the investigation.

After two days of their children missing, Keller has what could kindly be called a mental breakdown.  If you’ve seen the trailers, you’ll know that he kidnaps Alex, convinced that he’s somehow behind the disappearance of the two girls.  If you haven’t’ seen the trailers, it’s okay.  I didn’t spoil it for you, trust me.

This is when things go off the rails.  We spend the rest of the movie alternating between Keller and Loki as they both try, in their own ways, to catch the kidnapper and save the girls before it’s too late.  Things get weird, then they get brutal, then they get brutally weird.

Unfortunately for lovers of mystery, the plot is pretty solvable.  With all the cookie crumbs they lay out, you can easily figure out both the culprit and the motivation within about an hour.  This gives you another full 90 minutes to just sit back and see how it all unfolds, which isn’t a bad thing at all as most of the acting really is good.

There’s a reason Prisoners so eagerly pimps out it’s all-star cast in the trailers.  It’s because they all bring their A game to this one.  Yes, sometimes it gets a little ridiculous as several talented, Oscar-worthy actors all try to out-drama each other, but for the most part it works out great.  For example, Hugh Jackman has a scene in the film that involves a hammer, a sink and a hand that is as horrifying as it is brilliant.

The only other thing I want to mention is the weather.  It’s cold, rainy, and miserable for much of the film, and the camera work does a great job of matching the weather with the overall tone of the movie.  I greatly enjoyed it, even if all the rain and snow made me miss not living in a dry, dry, dry desert.

So there it is.  The first real Oscar contender, squeaking in just before all the big boys get released in the coming months.  Do I think Prisoners has a real shot at any awards?  Maybe.  The film is still too unwieldy to get any big nods, but don’t be surprised if Terrence Howard, Hugh Jackman, Maria Belo or Jake Gyllenhaal end up on a short list.


Prisoners: B+