Suspense, dread never let up in ‘Prisoners’

Two children have vanished — and that is more than enough to sustain “Prisoners” through 2½ hours of suspense and dogged detective work.

The movie’s not exactly subtle, but it is refreshingly deliberate and well-paced in unraveling its dire situation.

The two little girls disappear on Thanksgiving, in a blandly ordinary neighborhood, and the search unfolds over the next few days.

A rather eccentric detective (Jake Gyllenhaal) uncovers a bizarre collection of clues, but no actual kidnapper. The prime suspect, a developmentally disabled man (Paul Dano), is released for lack of evidence.

This infuriates the father (Hugh Jackman) of one of the missing kids, and he decides to take the investigation into his own hands.

Screenwriter Aaron Guzikowski puts the weight on Jackman’s character, which unfortunately makes the three other parents — played by the excellent Maria Bello, Terrence Howard and Viola Davis — less integral to the story.

The vigilante-justice angle is not quite as thought-provoking as the moviemakers seem to think it is, but the overall puzzle, and the dank atmosphere (shot in Georgia), provides many moments of anxiety.

Viewers may get a flashback or two to “Zodiac,” as once again Jake Gyllenhaal is perpetually exploring dark basements that might hold some terrible clue.

Gyllenhaal turns in a busy performance (he has given his character a facial tic), but his tendency to remain silent during emotionally charged scenes is effective. Jackman plays his role straight on, as always, and we have little problem believing this guy exists.

Melissa Leo, the Oscar-winner for “The Fighter,” does fine-tuned work as Dano’s aunt.

Canadian director Denis Villeneuve, who steered the impossibly overwrought “Incendies” to a foreign-language film Oscar nomination a few years ago, is more in control of the frequently lurid material here. Because the film moves along with a steady tread, you might not notice how certain key moments are left offscreen — an effective way of propelling the plot.

The first-class cinematographer, Roger Deakins, captures the way an apparently civilized American town might have strange little pockets where people could simply disappear off the grid. No wonder the basements are places of edgy expectation — in “Prisoners,” you never know what you might find there.

“Prisoners” (3 stars)

A suspenseful search for two missing children, during which the investigation by an eccentric detective (Jake Gyllenhaal) is complicated by a vigilante-minded father (Hugh Jackman). Director Denis Villeneuve stays in control of some fairly lurid material, to the point that every time somebody steps down into a basement, you expect the worst.

Rated: R for violence, language.

Showing: Alderwood 7, Cinebarre, Edmonds, Everett Stadium, Galaxy Monroe, Marysville, Stanwood, Oak Tree, Pacific Place, Varsity, Woodinville, Cascade Mall, Oak Harbor.

More in Life

Heavy Hollywood headlines: Robert Horton’s movies preview

In the midst of all the sexual-misconduct allegations, the holiday film season offers some relief.

‘Love, Chaos and Dinner’ an Teatro ZinZanni’s original show

The “Parsian cabaret” is a superb circus dinner theater operation in Marymoor Park through April 29.

Denzel Washington’s remarkable performance isn’t helped by plot

The actor is convincing as an awkward, eccentric lawyer, but unconvincing contrivances pile up.

‘The Breadwinner’ animation is strong, but its story is stilted

The Cartoon Saloon film never lets you forget that you’re here to learn an important lesson.

Pianist Kaitlyn Gia Lee, 10, of Mill Creek, will perform Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23 in A Major on Nov. 26 with the Everett Philharmonic Orchestra.
Young pianist to perform Mozart with Everett Philharmonic

Kaitlyn Gia Lee, 10, of Mill Creek, will play the piano at the Music for the Imagination concert.

Liz Oyama as Belle, Jimmi Cook as Gaston and John Han as Lefou star in the Edmonds Driftwood Players production of Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast,” opening Nov. 24. Magic Photo
In Driftwood’s ‘Beauty and the Beast,’ Belle has girl-power bend

Edmonds Driftwood Players presents Disney’s adaptation of the fair tale Nov. 24 through Dec. 17.

Celebrate Native American Heritage Month with reads, listens

Pay tribute to the contributions of indigenous people to national history and culture.

Franken’s rising political star obscured by accusations

He faces an ethics investigation after allegations he had unwanted physical contact with four women.

Johnny Cash boyhood home considered for historic nomination

The house was provided as part of an economic recovery program during the Great Depression.

Most Read