‘Prisoners’ Reviews: What the Critics Say About Hugh Jackman’s Gritty Work

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The crime thriller also stars Jake Gyllenhaal

Hugh Jackman and his upcoming crime thriller “Prisoners” are earning high praise from critics, who hail the picture as smart and gripping.

The film centers on a father (Jackman) who holds the man he thinks is responsible for kidnapping his daughter hostage in a desperate effort to find her before it’s too late.

The movie screened at the Toronto and Telluride film festivals, where it was deemed a serious Oscar contender. It debuts in theaters this weekend.

In addition to Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis, Terrence Howard and Melissa Leo lead a host of acclaimed actors. Many critics have yet to weigh in on the film’s merits, but so far “Prisoners” commands a sterling 83 percent “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

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In TheWrap, Todd Gilchrist praised the performances but said the film tries too hard to tie up all its loose ends. It’s not as smart as it thinks it is, he wrote.

“Though it’s likely too grim to follow further in the footsteps of four-square a winner like ‘Argo,’ the two share in common a sort of self-seriousness that tries to deceive the audience into believing it’s watching something deeply complex, when it’s really just well-acted and ultimately very conventional crowd-pleaser,” Gilchrist wrote.

Entertainment Weekly’s Owen Gleiberman acknowledged that “Prisoners” owes a debt to a long line of revenge thrillers but argued that its portrait of the moral consequences of vigilantism is audacious. He said Jackman’s work is far more complex or nuanced than his popcorn roles in movies like “X-Men.”

“It’s a dazzingly potent, ambitious and complex movie, a film that forces you to ask questions that have no easy answers,” Gleiberman wrote.

His enthusiasm was mirrored in a rave review by Variety’s Scott Foundas, who said the picture was brilliant and in a league with other ambiguous cinematic examinations of violence like “Mystic River” and “Se7en.” It is a triumph of direction by Canadian filmmaker Denis Villeneuve, he said.

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“In less assured hands, a movie called ‘Prisoners’ with a plot like this would be an invitation to disaster, heavy on self-conscious allegory, symbolism and moral debate,” Foundas wrote. “(Everyone, don’t you see, is a prisoner of something — of time, of grief, of his own psyche.) In Villeneuve’s, nothing is belabored, the thorny questions of right and wrong bubbling under the surface without ever being declaimed.”

The Hollywood Reporter’s Stephen Farber said the acting elevates the proceedings, citing the film’s two male leads as standouts in a fine ensemble cast.

“Jackman illuminates the character’s conflicted nature without ever begging for sympathy,” Farber wrote. “Gyllenhaal is also playing a troubled character, a suspicious loner who nonetheless has a strong desire to help people in need, and he wins our sympathy for this dogged detective without in any way idealizing the character.”

It’s a knotty film that rewards audience’s attention, William Goss wrote on Film.com. Yet, it stops just short of greatness because it occasionally relies on tired crime thriller cliches, he complained.

“Even if ‘Prisoners’ doesn’t pack quite the same punch as either Ben Affleck‘s great ‘Gone Baby Gone’ or upcoming Israeli import ‘Big Bad Wolves,’ it certainly follows well enough in their bleak, taut footsteps,” Goss wrote.

Some critics, however, found the film’s deliberate pace to just be dull. In New York, David Edelstein said that the film appears to move in “slow motion” along with its faltering investigation into the kidnapping.

“In the real world, there is no instant gratification,” Edelstein wrote. “But in the real world there wouldn’t be a red herring as dumb as the one here.”