Overall Rating: 3.5/4
I had no idea who the cinematographer for this particular film was, but as I watched it I kept thinking of how incredible it all looked. It felt familiar, too. When the end credits rolled, seeing the name Roger Deakins made perfect sense.
Deakins, one of the greatest directors of photography, can do no wrong. A very small handful of men find themselves in his league, such as Kaminski and Richardson. With 10 Academy Award nominations, this man is the Meryl Streep of cinematography. His work has a mesmerizing quality of elegance. In Prisoners, the subtleties and smoothness of his camerawork are hauntingly impressive. The lighting for this film is intentionally consistent, unlike Skyfall’s variety, so the film maintains its performance-driven quality. His lighting, while not being overpowering, is still striking; especially in a moment where Detective Loki throws open a door to a basement. With negative space and scenery, Deakins creates the sense of a tension that is both beautiful and disturbing within the shots.
Prisoners contains a large group of people who know how to nail mannerisms, even for somewhat vague roles. This proves the power of emotionally driven performances, even when all the background information doesn’t lend itself to dialogue in the script. Jake Gyllenhaal, Paul Dano, and Hugh Jackman really did their homework and threw themselves into disturbing roles of characters with moments of contempt and redemption. Viola Davis, Maria Bello, and Terrence Howard play the broken-down parents of missing children with depth, and Melissa Leo is almost unrecognizable.
Denis Villenueve pushes these actors over the edge. He does not hold back in presenting the horrors of this film’s subject matter, and that is what a movie with this kind of a context needs. This is not the kind of film for playing it safe and the pacing of this film never slows down or speeds up where it should not. It hits those beats with ease, even for a film that goes well over 2 hours. This film must have had an incredible editor as well.
This is screenplay is an emotional roller coaster. The moments rise and fall in heartbeats, and in numerous moments I caught myself gaping at the screen, literally on the edge of my seat. It gives hope as fast as it takes it away and has you questioning right and wrong throughout.
There are controversial motives in this script, but it is the ending that leaves most viewers divided. Aaron Guzikowski leaves the final moments open for interpretation, where many hope for more closure. Still, even with its twists and turns, how often is there closure in these real-life situations? The answer is hardly ever, and the screenplay provides more closure than it may even need to. Sure, it’s an open ending that fades out moments too soon for some, but whatever comes after should be obvious. The ending, while not perfect for everyone, is perfect for the film. It is an ending that leaves a lingering feeling with you long after the film finishes, and haunting and hopeful feeling that’s hard to shake off and is much more powerful than relieving every emotional wound this film inflicts.
I am not sure I have ever experienced more stress watching any other film. Probably not, and a lot of that goes to Jóhann Jóhannsson’s score, which is as seamless to the film as Roger Deakins’ camerawork. The score is subtle as well, which is admirable. Sometimes scores, in a self-indulgent way, draw too much attention to themselves for these sorts of stress-inducing films, but like the lighting, this score does not overpower. By not overpowering, it elevates the emotional drive of the film.