"Prisoners is a fine piece of cinema and will certainly have you gripped from the beginning right through to the bitter end"

You could argue that Denis Villeneuve's Prisoners – a gruelling 'whodunnit' about the disappearance of two young girls, is dealing in somewhat easy cinematic territory, as a story that is always going to upset and emotionally engage the viewer given its content. However that doesn't take anything away from the Canadian filmmaker, as – alongside a series of powerhouse acting performances – he brings this story to the big screen to devastating effect.

Much like every winter, both Keller (Hugh Jackman) and Grace Dover (Maria Bello) head over to their friends, Nancy (Viola Davis) and Franklin's (Terrence Howard) house to celebrate Thanksgiving – however disaster strikes when both of their young daughters, who went off to play for a while, go missing. While the local eccentric Alex Jones (Paul Dano) is made the chief suspect, Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) embarks on a case to find the two missing children, though it's a case that takes him down various unexpected avenues, while the desperate Keller will do anything he sees necessary to get his daughter back and find her captor.

With a running time of almost two and a half hours, Prisoners is a long and arduous affair and, much like the characters in the movie, the audience too have to put up with the excruciating slow-burning approach, where minutes feel like hours as they're searching for their young daughters. As such, it's not an enjoyable film to watch at all, though that's by no means a criticism of Villeneuve. We see a lot of uncomfortable truths about the human psyche, and we see what people can be capable of when they've got nothing to lose. To add such a chilling ambiance, the cold, winter time setting is effective, providing a bleakness to proceedings, and diminishing any feeling of hope – which is a sentiment mostly untouched in this production.

Villeneuve and writer Aaron Guzikowski play with our perceptions too, as the accused become the victims and the actual victims become the perpetrators, as the line between who is a hero and who is a villain becomes suitably blurred, turning this story on its head completely, while messing with ours. That said, this cinematic puzzle of a film does suffer from a far too convoluted finale, where the screenwriter seems hell bent on throwing in various – and needless – twists and turns. Sometimes simplicity works best, and this tries to hard to surprise the viewer, while you leave with too many unanswered questions.

Nonetheless, where Prisoners truly excels is within the performances from our leading cast members, with Jackman stealing the show – in arguably his finest ever performance. Davis comes in a close second however, and though limited in regards to her screen time, she shows off her ability with an incredibly sincere and emotional showing. 

Prisoners is a fine piece of cinema and will certainly have you gripped from the beginning right through to the bitter end, however it is a shame that the emphasis is mostly on the Kellers, as it doesn't seem fair that either family should be given any more importance in the narrative than the other. It's just a small gripe, mind you.