Review – Take No Prisoners! (“Prisoners”)

Finally, Hugh Jackman stars in a movie where adamantium claws don’t shoot out from his hands. Directed by Canadian film maker Denis Villeneuve from a screenplay written by Aaron Guzikowski, this emotional, complex, and lengthy (2hrs and 26min) drama deals with a riveting story of a double kidnapping and the effects it has on the people involved.

We start with an ordinary Thanksgiving dinner in a rural Pennsylvania suburb. Keller Dover (Jackman), a devote  Christian and survivalist is a loving, but stern family man that has a son, Ralph (Dylan Minnette), a loving wife Grace (Maria Bello), and a cute little daughter, Anna (Erin Gerasimovich). They go down the street to visit the Birch’s for Turkey Day dinner and there we meet veterinarian Franklin (Terrance Howard), his wife Nancy (Viola Davis) and their cute little daughter, Joy (Kyla Drew Simmons).

While out playing after dinner, the two little moppets suddenly disappear and the two families go into panic mode with Keller taking the lead, his fiery temper getting the best of him. Called to investigate the disappearance is Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) and soon a suspect is caught. His name is Alex Jones (Paul Dano), a geeky-looking, simple-minded man who has the mental capacity of a 10-year-old. His protective aunt, Holly (Melissa Leo) tells the police that he couldn’t have committed any crimes due to his mental condition, and he is soon set free due to a complete lack of evidence.

But that doesn’t sit well with Keller as he’s convinced that Alex DID commit the crime and has both children hidden somewhere. So much so, that he kidnaps the man and holds him up in an abandoned apartment, tied up and gagged. There, with Franklin’s uneasy help, Keller savagely beats and tortures the man to glean any information from him about the whereabouts of their children. Alex, bloodied and in agonizing pain, holds to his story of not knowing as Keller ups the ante, applying more and more means of torture to break him as the days pass.

Meanwhile, Thor… sorry, I mean, Loki is on the trail of a sinister fellow (Jeff Pope) that’s looking more and more like he’s the real criminal. Franklin, seeing on TV that Loki has apprehended a would-be suspect, decides to drop out of his torture duties. A search of the suspects home turns up bloodied clothes of the children, maze drawings everywhere, and a bizarre crime novel, but no kids! Is this new guy really the kidnapper? Is beaten-to-a-pulp Alex really innocent? And what’s with all the hidden snakes?

I can’t reveal the third act revelation, but suffice to say, I figured out the answer back in act two. It does, however, come with a great final act, and I will admit, a clever brush stroke for the last final frames of the movie.

But at nearly 2 1/2 hours, it is a long time to sit and watch this who-done-it that easily could have been condensed in less than 2 hours. There are so many plot holes, that you leave scratching your head at the end of the movie. I’m still trying to figure out some of them as I’m writing this. Even the characters don’t behave like they should in real life and you feel like yelling at the screen, “You idiot, didn’t you hear him??”. It IS, however, beautifully shot by Roger A. Deakins, as he captures the overall feel of the film, with washed-out grays and bleak-looking blues.

Jackman, Gyllenhaal, and Dano are to be applauded for their graphic performances here. Jackman’s Keller has such a terrible inner rage when he unleashes onto Dano’s Jones, that it’s disturbing to see. Sure, as Wolverine, Jackman was ripping and carving the bad guys in twain, but they were bad guys and probably had it coming. But here, it’s just plain unsettling to watch. Gyllenhaal likewise, has gone that extra mile, giving his character a facial tic for believability. And Dano, much like actor Crispin Glover, gives such a restrained, twisted, and harrowing show as the tortured man, that you don’t know whether to root for him or not.

But unfortunately, fine acting or not, the story gets so convoluted and bogged down with itself, it’s tough to really enjoy the movie when you’re trying to figure out who’s doing what to whom and why. Answers to the questions are given, but they clearly aren’t defined and don’t make any sense. Where’s Sherlock Holmes when you need him?

The Ox-Bow Incident (1943)

Did they or didn’t they? A study in mob rules and a little Nazi Germany thrown in good measure, this classic western character study is seen through the eyes of two ordinary cowboys, Gil Carter (Henry Fonda) and Art Croft (Harry Morgan).  They ride into a small town for a drink after a long time out on the range, and within a few minutes, they’re accused of being cattle-rustlers since nobody in town knows them.

Soon, word reaches town that a local rancher named Kinkaid has been killed by rustlers. With the sheriff out of town, a lynch mob is formed under the leadership of one Major Gerald Tetley (Frank Conroy), a former Confederate officer who has delusions of one day recapturing his past glories. Carter and Croft, rather than be suspected & hanged, reluctantly join the mob and head out of town with the gang.

The mob ride into Ox-Bow Canyon and quickly come upon three sleeping men in the dark of night: a farmer named Donald Martin (Dana Andrews), a Mexican ranch hand named Juan Martinez (Anthony Quinn), and Alva Hardwicke, a senile old man (Francis Ford). There’s a herd of cattle nearby with Kincaid’s brand on them, but Martin has no bill of sale written by Kinkaid with him! Uh-oh!

That’s evidence enough for Tetley, who demands that the three men be hanged on the spot. Carter knows that this is a gross miscarriage of justice, but he’s helpless to do anything about it, lest he be hanged too. Martin writes a letter to his wife and asks Davies, the only member of the posse that he trusts, to deliver it. Davies reads the letter and, hoping to save Martin’s life, shows it to the others. Davies believes that Martin is innocent and doesn’t deserve to die.

Tetley wants the men to be lynched immediately. A vote is taken on whether the men should be hanged or taken back to face trial. Only seven, Davies among them, Gil, and Art, vote to take the men back to town alive; the rest support immediate hanging. Gil tries to stop it, but is overpowered. After the lynching, the posse heads back, but Sheriff Risley meets them on the way and tells that – surprise! – Lawrence Kinkaid is NOT dead and that the men who shot him have been arrested! Oops! The posse gather in the saloon and drink together in silence as Major Tetley returns to his house and commits suicide. Gil reads Martin’s letter as members of the posse listen and later, Gil and Art deliver the letter to Martin’s wife.

Yeah, a real happy ending here, but a very strong lesson about taking the law into your own hands and not jumping to conclusions. Powerful performances from everyone in the cast, but try to ignore the cheesy landscape paintings in the  background. Director William Wellman knew this too, and shot almost all close-ups to avoid them. “The Ox Bow Incident” is shown frequently on TCM.

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