Prisoners ★★★★½

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

I believe that it would be a severe mistake to classify Prisoners as a film about "Obsession". I think this is a fault of Jake Gyllenhaal being present, as there have been numerous illogical comparisons to Zodiac, when the two films could not be any more different.

This isn't to say that Prisoners does not deal with the obsession of the characters in gaining closure, but it is far from the main point of the film. In fact, after the opening scene of the film, in which Keller Dover says a prayer as he is hunting a deer, I am stunned that people still don't see this as an inquisition on Religion and Morality.

What's great about Prisoners, a film that is so close to a masterpiece that it hurts, is that it is a grim film that is far from being nihilistic and hateful. It does not choose to hand hold its audience into dark territory, but it does not take them there with spite. It is a film that gracefully walks a line most films fail to even stand on straight. It allows itself to make its point of morality, a very compelling and controversial one, without reprimanding the audience.

Yet it's a film that I've spent the better part of a week and a half before writing this looking into discussions, and yet very rarely did someone bring up its moral conflicts. It is an incredibly simple point made leading to complex discussions, and it has been talked of (mainly by detractors of the film) for being more about a thriller, unnecessarily being compared to Zodiac's procedural plot. A procedural Prisoners is not. It is drama of the conflict between morality and religion, through and through.

Consider other religious imagery and symbols the film carries. The snakes. The "confessional" wall that Keller builds between him and Alex, resembling what one would find in church (and even more interesting in this case, who is confessing to who?). Detective Loki's tattoos. The "tomb" Keller is thrown into at the end of the film. It is a film steeped in religion, and it asks questions of the audience to consider the religious idea of wrath, and challenges their own idea of it as well. This is great filmmaking, inciting discussions not of the film's mechanics, but rather of its substance and how it relates to reality.

I have heard complaints about the film's ending, citing that it lacks a point and it is ambiguous for the sake of ambiguity. I would like to respond to that by saying that the purpose of the ending is to ask a question of the audience: Which fate is better for Keller? There is a negative outcome for him in either case. Either he dies a slow and painful death, but absolved of being caught by the police and shamed in public. It is far from ambiguous for ambiguity's sake. It is an ending that ends right where it needs to.

Beyond this, Prisoners is also a stunningly well made film in which Denis Villeneuve masters tension, the actors authentically convey emotional conflict in compelling ways, and is (naturally) fantastically shot by the great Roger Deakins, putting in some truly stunning work (Guy is making some of the best arguments for digital right now). A couple fleeting issues of pacing and a obnoxious contrivance or two keep the film from truly achieving the level of masterpiece, but it is regardless one of the best films of 2013.

Mary Conti liked these reviews