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Prisoners/Rated R for violence, torture and scary images. And bad trumpet playing by Terrence Howard at a Thanksgiving dinner.

Already being touted as an Oscar contender and must see film, Prisoners sports a great cast and neat direction. It is a cross between In the Heat of the Night (1967) and Silence of the Lambs (1991), both Oscar winners for Best Picture.

The preview appears to be a short and linear synopsis of the film. It shows a couple of families getting together for Thanksgiving dinner. Two of the small children go outside to play. A mysterious and dirty RV appears, then drives off. The children are gone. The driver is arrested. He is released. One of the fathers, played by Hugh Jackman, abducts the recently released driver, who is believed to be a guilty, bad guy. Torture ensues. Do they find the children?

You would think that most of the film has been given away. You would think. The preview only covers the first 20+ minutes and the film is two and a half hours long. What they don’t show in the preview is what makes the film effective.

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Jake Gyllenhaal plays a detective who is a cross between the hard working cop in Fargo (1996) and the determined F.B.I. rookie in Silence of the Lambs. He keeps grinding away, sorting through red herrings galore. Things go wrong. He makes mistakes. He keeps at it. Meanwhile, HJ and another dad of a kidnapped kid torture a suspect they believe to be guilty. They may be right. They may be wrong. They keep at it, just like JG does in his dogged and sometimes rough pursuit of the truth.

The film is very spooky. The use of light, shadow and utter darkness are used with enormous effect. The horror of evil is portrayed in the same way as in Silence of the Lambs. Twists and turns keep everyone on edge. Many of the scenes have horrific imagery. The last film that had imagery on screen this well staged was The King’s Speech (2010), which was also a Best Picture Oscar winner. The film is almost perfect. Almost.

The imperfections include the length of the film and an attempt to interject fear and dread by the use of a rolling drum sound. This is amateurish and unnecessary. The filmmakers should have known this. If you have a good thing going, don’t muck it up. This film is also a true whodunnit. Unlike Silence of the Lambs, it now reflects In the Heat of the Night in its pursuit of the guilty and ultimate revelations. The problem for me is that the ultimate relations were not ultimate. I spotted the guilty party when they first appeared on screen. I have been surprised more times watching Scooby Doo than I was waiting to find my suspicions confirmed. The ending scenes are even more effective than the previously-mentioned Oscar winners – something this film may ultimately prove to be.

Again, the film contains a lot of torture. A lot. If you can’t stomach it, you don’t want to go.

Rated 3.5 out of 4.0 reasons that Jessica Fletcher would have spotted the bad person quicker than I did. But maybe not quicker than you will.

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