The Reel: ‘Prisoners’ will hold you captive with realistic plot line

Ben Conniff

It’s every parent’s worst nightmare.

You decide to let your children play outside, and the second your back is turned, they’re nowhere to be found.

Behold “Prisoners,” director Denis Villeneuve’s haunting thriller about the week-long search for two girls who go missing from their Pennsylvania neighborhood and the father (Hugh Jackman) and police detective (Jake Gyllenhaal) who will stop at nothing to find them.

The girls’ conditions remain unknown as false leads and mysterious connections form an intricate web that keeps audiences guessing on the edges of their seats for a little more than two and a half hours.

That’s far too long a run time for a “whodunit” like this, even with the inclusion of some confusing edits that seemed to cut out essential parts of the story.

I thought things escalated a bit quickly when the families first reacted, running around the streets and shouting the girls’ names just before Detective Loki (Gyllenhaal) is seen on a stakeout of a potential suspect.

But despite some murky exposition that nearly put me to sleep, “Prisoners” shows us only the bare minimum of what we need to see in order to understand the conflict at hand. It’s easily one of the most terrifying movies never billed as a “horror” film because of its disturbingly realistic nature.

One of the stolen girl’s angst-ridden father, Keller Dover (Jackman), is not your typical avenger.

He possesses no particular “set of skills” that allows him to go on a gun-slinging, “Death Wish”-style rampage.

He does not wear a cape or a suit of high-tech armor.

He’s just an honorable family man who finds himself with the right degree of conviction that allows him to contemplate torture and murder.

The grieving parents of Joy (Terrence Howard, Viola Davis) do nothing to stop Keller’s heated actions, while his wife Grace Dover (Maria Bello) spends her days sulking in bed, ingesting a steady diet of anxiety pills.

If nothing else, “Prisoners” forces the audience to question not just how far the characters will go, but to what lengths we would go to find our own children under similar circumstances.

Jackman’s arresting performance as Keller is his best to date and never feels far from how a typical father might react.

Gyllenhaal’s Detective Loki is skeptical and sensitive, providing a welcome contrast to Jackman’s hotheaded character.

The rest of the film’s talented pedigree (Bello, Davis, Howard and Paul Dano) is convincing, even if they tend to fall by the wayside as Jackman and Gyllenhaal carry the show.

“Prisoners” is grueling, intense cinema in which every grey-hued frame seems to evoke a sense of dread.

I found myself easily taken by a rich story and fine performances that left me breathless.