Prisoners

Prisoners is intense. To maintain energy and interest for two and a half hours, a film needs to keep moving. This detective story with a vengeance twist doesn’t stop throwing new plot developments until the screen goes black.

Hugh Jackman, in a non-singing role, is the more bankable star of Prisoners. But Jake Gyllenhaal delivers the stronger performance as a police detective charged with solving the disappearance of two young girls.

The Dovers (Jackman and Maria Bello) and the Birchs (Terrence Howard and Viola Davis) are suburban neighbors who get together for Thanksgiving. After the meal, their two young daughters go outside but soon disappear. Their older siblings recall seeing an old RV. When it is found, suspect Alex Jones (Paul Dano) is brought in and questioned by detective Loki (Gyllenhaal). But Jones has an apparent learning disability and can barely talk. With no solid evidence, he is released.

Dover, however, is convinced that Jones is the perp. Shortly after Jones is turned loose, Dover imprisons Jones inside an abandoned apartment building where he beats and tortures him. He enlists the aid of the Birchs (first Mr., later Mrs.) in the effort to get Alex to tell where the girls are.

Loki meanwhile pursues other leads, which take him to a couple of creeps including a priest on his sex offender list (Len Cariou) and a slimy guy who buys kids clothing but has no kids (David Dastmalchian). Loki finds weird things in each of their homes. He stops by Alex Jones’ home and talks to his mom (Melissa Leo) in his search for solid evidence.

Loki’s frustration increases until the Birch girl is found. In the wake of that occurrence, almost everything gets resolved.

Jackman is not the first male actor to express extreme anger about a daughter being abducted, but he carries it off well. Bello, Howard and Davis, sadly, have little opportunity to show their acting chops. Dano plays the simpleton perfectly. Leo is initially unrecognizable as the dowdy middle-aged mom. And Dastmalchian has a look that should get him as many decent “creep” roles as he can handle.

The reason to see Prisoners (along with trying to figure it all out) is Gyllenhaal. He maintains a level of intensity that hovers just below the boiling point through most of the film. He does blow his top a time or two.

Jake owes a debt to writer Aaron Guzikowski for handing him a great character and to director Denis Villenueve for delivering the story in a straightforward way, without any tricky stuff.

Prisoners has the grim look of rainy winters down south. (It was filmed in Georgia, a state that actually does have sunny days, though not in this movie.) It has no real comic relief. Prisoners is intense.

Flight

“Flight” features another outstanding performance from Denzel Washington. His character is a complex man with a big problem that leads to an even bigger problem.

Washington plays “Whip” Whittaker, a commercial airline pilot. On a short hop from Orlando to Atlanta, his plane has mechanical trouble. He uses his skill as a pilot to crash land the plane with minimal loss of life and is hailed as a hero.

When the NTSB investigates the crash, evidence shows that he was flying the plane drunk and high on coke. His alcoholism, which has led the to end of his marriage and his estrangement from his teenaged son, is a demon he tries to defeat. After he comes to the rescue of a recovering junkie and she becomes his live-in gal pal, she takes him with her to AA. He walks out of the meeting.

The two questions to be resolved: Will he be prosecuted for flying drunk? And will he be able to stay on the wagon for more than a few days at a time?

The supporting cast is a good one. Bruce Greenwood is the pilot’s union leader who offers solid support after the crash. Don Cheadle plays the pilot’s union attorney who works to get Whip’s evidence suppressed. John Goodman plays Whip’s longtime buddy and booze/drug connection. A woman who looks like she could be Diane Keaton’s daughter, Kelly Reilly, is the ex-junkie girlfriend. Melissa Leo is the NTSB administrator who conducts the climactic hearing.

The film gives us just enough of Whip’s personal struggle without bogging down the plot. Director Robert Zemeckis combines the storytelling and the character study nicely. Zemeckis, who has delivered memorable images in previous hits, also brings to “Flight” a plane crash that looks amazingly real.

It’s my opinion that any movie starring Denzel Washington is worth seeing. This may not be his best movie ever (nor is it the best ever from Zemeckis), but it’s darn good—a solid effort from all concerned. I like it.