Film Review – BlueCat Competition Finalist Scores First Big Hit with Prisoners

prisoners cover

By Matthew Goodman |

As the hit film, Prisoners, started making its final rounds in theaters and transitioned into smaller dollar theaters, I put the finishing touches on my first ever feature length screenplay and submitted it to the BlueCat Screenplay Competition, the same competition that the Prisoners’ screenwriter jump-started his career with.

One of the film’s stars, Hugh Jackman, and Aaron Guzikowski, the film’s screenwriter, pose on the front page of the BlueCat website. Guzikowski was a finalist in the competition in 2005. While that is an incredible achievement in itself, “Prisoners” is his first breakout film. After getting his start in BlueCat, he has now developed his career into what I see as a dream come true. Having a feature film made and hit the big screen is a massive goal for me. If I were able to follow Guzikowski’s career path, I would be more than thrilled. Prisoners is an incredible film that definitely deserves all the positive reviews it has received so far.

The film takes place around Thanksgiving. It starts almost hokey as Jackman’s character, Keller Dover, brings his family over to Franklin Birch’s house. Franklin is played by Terrence Howard. While the opening hokey feel is sentimental, it is also informative and brief. Through short speaking parts and subtext, you get a good feel for the families. The film also sets up a lot of hints and devices that are paid off later in the film. Keller is a traditional man’s man that is extremely protective of his family and fears for the worst possible situations.

After dinner, when the families are relaxing, they realize the two youngest daughters have not returned from playing. A mad scramble is made to find the children. The only suspect is a rundown RV that was parked near where the girls were playing.

Detective Loki, played by Jake Gyllenhaal, takes the investigation. He finds the RV and the apparently juvenile and somewhat mentally inept driver, Alex Jones, played by Paul Dano.

The remainder of the movie is a twisted, mystery, puzzle. The police are unable to prove Alex took the kids and can’t detain him for very long. They also find out that he has the mental capacity of a 10 year old through his IQ test. Keller is convinced that Alex knows something more about the girls’ disappearance. Keller takes matters into his own hands, kidnaps Alex, and takes him into an abandoned apartment complex where he used to live. He begins torturing Alex for answers.

The film gives you most of the pieces of the puzzle in the first half. You could theoretically have it all figured out pretty early. I surely was never positive of what happened until the very end. It keeps you guessing for a full two hours and 33 minutes. While this may seem like an extensive and almost exasperating length for a movie, I barely noticed that so much time had gone by. It is incredibly fluid, just in its plot. The sharp direction by Denis Villeneuve adds another layer of suspense and keeps you into the movie. The actors all put forth tremendous efforts and really get into their roles. They each have unique personalities and they are successful in making you forget these are big name actors. You believe all the characters and you are right in the story with them.

The extended length allows the movie to play with your expectations. It steps outside of a lot of formulas seen in movies of late. This is a trick in films that I am extremely fond of and that I hope to convey in my own writing. You are never quite sure of any of the suspects or even the main characters. It makes you question what is wrong and what is right up until the very end.

Lots of dark films, like Prisoners, pivot on a very tricky, hope/dread axis. This film keeps your gut wrenched for its entirety. You hope the kids are alive, and you dread the worst has happened to them. You hope your favorite character is a good guy, but you dread that what they are doing is wrong. It applies however you view the film, and whichever character’s story you choose to believe and follow.

It’s one of the best films I’ve seen this year and I hope it gains more attention in awards. If you can, catch it while it’s still in dollar theaters, and definitely don’t miss it when it comes out on DVD.

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