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Laramie Movie Scope: Prisoners

Powerful psychological drama with plot twists and holes

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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September, 21 2013 -- The agony of parents whose children have been abducted is on full display in this powerful mystery-drama, complete with lots of plot twists, and some plot holes, too.

A carpenter, Keller Dover (played by Hugh Jackman of the “X-Men” movies) is a survivalist, conservative, god-fearing man who is very self-reliant. His faith is put to the test when his young daughter is kidnapped, along with her best friend, in broad daylight, when Dover's family is visiting neighbors Franklin and Nancy Birch (Terrence Howard and Viola Davis). The two girls, Anna Dover and Joy Birch (Erin Gerasimovich and Kyla Drew Simmons) were seen playing around a motor home parked in the neighborhood.

Almost immediately, the motor home is found and the driver, Alex Jones (Paul Dano of “The Extra Man”) is taken into custody when he tries to flee from police. Jones is both closed-mouthed and weak-minded. There is no trace of the girls in the motor home and police are forced to release him, much to the dismay of Dover and his wife, Grace (Maria Bello of “A History of Violence”) and their son, Ralph (Dylan Minnette of “Let Me In”).

Dover is convinced that Alex Jones knows what happened to his daughter. In desperation, he kidnaps Jones and tortures him for information. When Franklin Birch finds out that Dover has kidnapped Jones and is torturing him, he is appalled, but does nothing to stop it. When Nancy Birch finds out, she sides with Dover, telling her husband to let Dover “do what he has to” to find the missing girls.

Meanwhile, a talented, driven policeman, Detective Loki, systematically works the case, interviewing Jones and visiting the registered sex offenders in the area, including a priest, Father Patrick Dunn, (Len Cariou of “Thirteen Days”). Loki arrests the priest, who is hiding a corpse in his basement which is seemingly unrelated to the case of the missing girls. He sees a suspicious-looking man, Bob Taylor (David Dastmalchian of “The Dark Knight”) at a gathering for the missing girls and ends up arresting him, too. Slowly, Loki realizes there is a common thread connecting all three of these arrests.

There are some interesting plot twists in the film, and the performances are uniformly excellent. There is a lot of raw, unflinching emotion in this film. This is an emotionally powerful film. The dialog is also very well written by Aaron Guzikowski (“Contraband”). The characters talk about the moral dilemmas that abound in this film, but somehow they never seem to fully confront or debate these issues. They simply act, seemingly without considering the consequences of their actions.

The prime example of this is Dover, a devout Christian, but he shows minimal introspection or hesitation in his torture of Jones, and not much remorse, either. He prays before torturing Jones, but that doesn't make him more humane in the treatment of his prisoner. Still, Dover's moral choice, and the consequences of his actions, are more realistically portrayed in this film than similar actions were in some other similar films, such as “A Time to Kill.”

There are some inconsistencies and holes in the plot, too. Some very important developments are unexplained, or unresolved. There are some people walking around, free, who should have been arrested for serious felony crimes. One character suddenly appears in an essentially unexplained way, as if arriving by magic. A couple of people disappear entirely and these disappearances don't seem to set off any alarms, or even serious concerns. A police prisoner dies under circumstances that would usually result in at least a temporary suspension of duty for the officer responsible, but there is no disciplinary action forthcoming.

One major development in the film is left unresolved, a bit like the ending of “Inception.” This did not bother me, but I heard others in the audience complaining about this, so it will bother some people. All these nagging little problems are a bother, but the overall strength of the film overpowers these things. This film rates a B.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2013 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)