Prisoners is a compelling procedural drama that’s bogged down by its by-the-numbers screenplay.

Keller Dover (Jackman) is facing every parent’s worst nightmare. His six-year-old daughter, Anna, is missing, together with her young friend, Joy, and as minutes turn to hours, panic sets in. The only lead is a dilapidated RV that had earlier been parked on their street. Heading the investigation, Detective Loki (Gyllenhaal) arrests its driver, Alex Jones (Paul Dano), but a lack of evidence forces the only suspect’s release. Knowing his child’s life is at stake, the frantic Dover decides he has no choice but to take matters into his own hands. But just how far will this desperate father go to protect his family? (c) WB

Prisoners has an intriguing premise that capitalizes on every parent’s fear – missing children. The film’s moral dilemmas make it emotionally complex and involving – how far would you go for your child? It also touches on religious hypocrisies – is violence justifiable by a perceived divine forgiveness?

All of this is fleshed out by strong performances from its lead characters. Hugh Jackman effectively shows Dover’s open rage and determination. He is juxtaposed with Jake Gyllenhaal’s layered performance as Loki whose steely resolve hides an angry undercurrent.

The characters pursue their own way against the backdrop of a bleak cinematography. This keeps the long procedural drama tense as the film takes its twist and turns.

Unfortunately that’s when the film’s screenplay veers it towards a conventional thriller. It’s clear that its ethical dilemmas are just bait. The red herrings and plot twists are standard procedure. The resolution is contrived. The ending wraps up neatly.

While logic is guaranteed fallible in thrillers that complaining about them is useless, the film should have at least followed through with its themes. It explores violence and its consequences through its central character but doesn’t deliver a pay-off.

Prisoners’ is effective because its emotionally manipulative. Its potential is stunted by a by-the-numbers screenplay, rendering Prisoners’ as a nicely wrought cake hiding a common household knife.

My Rating: 7/10

Alternate Movie Poster by Harry Irons

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