Prisoners (2013 film)

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Theatrical release poster
Directed byDenis Villeneuve
Produced by
Written byAaron Guzikowski
Music byJóhann Jóhannsson
CinematographyRoger A. Deakins
Edited by
Distributed byWarner Bros. Pictures
(United States)
Summit Entertainment
Release date
Running time
153 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Budget$46 million[2]
Box office$122.1 million[2]

Prisoners is a 2013 American thriller film directed by Denis Villeneuve from a screenplay written by Aaron Guzikowski. The film has an ensemble cast including Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis, Maria Bello, Terrence Howard, Melissa Leo and Paul Dano.[3] It is Villeneuve's first English-language feature film.

The plot focuses on the abduction of two young girls in Pennsylvania and the subsequent search for the suspected abductor by the police. After police arrest a young suspect and release him, the father of one of the daughters takes matters into his own hands. The film was a financial and critical success, grossing $122 million worldwide. It was chosen by the National Board of Review as one of the top ten films of 2013 and at the 86th Academy Awards was nominated for Best Cinematography.


In suburban Pennsylvania, Keller Dover, his wife Grace, their teenage son Ralph, and young daughter Anna attend a Thanksgiving dinner at the home of their friends, Franklin Birch, his wife Nancy, their teenage daughter Eliza, and young daughter Joy. The four children go for a walk in the neighborhood and approach an RV that is parked outside a house nearby. There is music playing, which suggests there is somebody inside. After dinner, Anna and Joy go missing.

Detective Loki is informed and starts a search. He locates the RV, which is found parked at a gas station. As police surround the vehicle, the driver, Alex Jones, starts the vehicle and crashes into a nearby tree. He is subsequently arrested and taken away. Alex has the IQ of a 10-year-old and appears confused when being questioned at the police station. His vehicle is searched by forensics but nothing is found relating to the girls. Pursuing other leads, Loki discovers a corpse in the basement of Patrick Dunn, a priest. Dunn admits that he killed the man because the man confessed he was "waging a war against God" and had killed 16 children and said he would kill more.

As the search continues, Dover is informed that Alex has been released and attacks Alex outside the police station. Alex whispers to him, "They didn't cry until I left them." Since Loki won't re-arrest Alex and since Dover sees Alex hurting his Aunt's dog and then hears him singing a ditty that Anna and Joy had sung, Dover abducts Alex, locks him up in his late father's abandoned apartment house and tortures him—with the help of a reluctant Franklin—to force him to talk. First Dover beats him, but Alex says nothing. Later Dover ties him up in the shower and uses plywood to enclose him in the dark. To further torture Alex, Dover adjusts the water so the shower is either scalding hot or freezing.

At a candlelight vigil for the girls, Loki sees a suspicious, hooded man who flees when Loki approaches him. Later, the man breaks into both families' houses but leaves without doing anything. Loki follows Dover to where Alex is being held prisoner but doesn't find Alex because Dover fabricates a story about stopping at the building to drink to ease his suffering without his wife knowing.

A store clerk recognizes the hooded man from a composite drawing and reports him to Loki after seeing the man buying children's clothing. The suspect, Bob Taylor, is later arrested at his home, where the walls are covered in drawings of mazes. Loki then finds crates filled with maze books, live snakes, and bloodied children's clothing, including items belonging to the missing girls. They discover Taylor had himself been abducted as a child. At the police station Taylor confesses to the abduction, but during a physical altercation with Loki and two other officers he snatches a gun and kills himself without revealing any more information. The police conclude that Taylor was a fantasist and had no involvement with the disappearances; he stole the clothes from the girls' homes and bloodied them with pig's blood to recreate abductions.

Dover continues to torture Alex, who incoherently talks about escaping from a maze. Dover visits Alex's aunt Holly, who tells him that Alex is the way he is because he had an accident when he was younger with snakes her husband kept as pets. She says she and her husband were religious until their young son died of cancer. Back at the police station, Loki becomes frustrated over getting nowhere with the case until he matches a maze Taylor drew while in custody with the maze necklace worn by the man Dunn had killed in his basement.

Suddenly, Joy Birch is found drugged but alive. Dover visits her in the hospital to ask for information. Her memory is hazy but she mumbles to Dover, "You were there." Dover realizes that Joy may have heard his voice at the Jones' house when he visited Holly, and he bolts out of the hospital. Loki searches for Dover at the apartment building and discovers Alex. Dover then goes back to the Jones' house to get information from Holly, but she pulls a gun on him. She explains that before her husband left they abducted many children as part of their "war on God" to avenge their son's death. Alex was the first child they abducted, followed by Taylor. She reveals Alex had simply taken the girls for a ride and that she was the one who had decided to abduct them. Holly shoots Dover in the leg and imprisons him in a concealed pit in her yard, where he finds an emergency whistle belonging to his daughter.

Loki goes to the Jones' house to tell Holly that her nephew has been found. He finds a photograph of Holly's husband wearing the maze necklace found on the body in the priest's basement and realizes the dead man is Holly's missing husband. Loki finds Holly drugging Anna, and they exchange gunfire. Loki is wounded and Holly is killed. Loki rushes Anna to the hospital where she reunites with her mother. Alex is reunited with his parents. A day later, Loki returns to the Jones' house where the authorities have begun excavating the property. As the forensic investigators depart for the night, Loki hears Dover's labored blowing on the whistle from the pit.



Aaron Guzikowski wrote the script based on a short story he wrote, partially inspired by "The Tell-Tale Heart", involving "a father whose kid was struck by a hit and run driver and then puts this guy in a well in his backyard."[4] After he wrote the spec, many actors and directors entered and exited the project, including actors Christian Bale and Leonardo DiCaprio and directors Antoine Fuqua and Bryan Singer.[4] Ultimately Guzikowski would credit producer Mark Wahlberg for getting the project on its feet, stating, "He was totally pivotal in getting the film made. That endorsement helped it get around."[4] Principal photography began in Georgia in February 2013.[5]


Box office[edit]

Prisoners premiered at the 2013 Telluride Film Festival and was released theatrically in Canada and the United States on September 20, 2013. It was originally rated NC-17 by the MPAA for substantial disturbing violent content and explicit images; after being edited, it was re-rated R for disturbing violent content including torture, and language throughout.[citation needed] Prisoners opened in North America on September 20, 2013, in 3,260 theaters and grossed $20,817,053 in its opening weekend, averaging $6,386 per theater and ranking #1 at the box office. After 77 days in theaters, the film ended up earning $61,002,302 domestically and $61,124,385 internationally, earning a worldwide gross of $122,126,687, above its production budget of $46 million.[2]

Critical response[edit]

On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 80% based on 244 reviews, with a rating average of 7.27/10. The website's critical consensus states: "Prisoners has an emotional complexity and a sense of dread that makes for absorbing (and disturbing) viewing."[6] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 74 out of 100, based on 53 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[7] Audiences polled by CinemaScore initially gave the film a grade "B+" on an A+ to F scale. However Warner Bros asked for a recount by the service and later said the film received a grade "A–".[8][9]

Christopher Orr of The Atlantic wrote: "Ethical exploration or exploitation? In the end, I come down reservedly on the former side: the work done here by Jackman, Gyllenhaal, and especially Villeneuve is simply too powerful to ignore." Ed Gibbs of The Sun Herald wrote: "Not since Erskineville Kings, in 1999, has Hugh Jackman appeared so emotionally exposed on screen. It is an exceptional, Oscar-worthy performance." Peter Travers of Rolling Stone wrote that Gyllenhaal was "exceptional" and that "Villeneuve takes his unflashy time building character and revealing troubled psyches in the most unlikely of places."[10]

The film was a second runner-up for the BlackBerry People's Choice Award at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival, behind Philomena and 12 Years a Slave. Gyllenhaal received the Best Supporting Actor of the Year Award at the 2013 Hollywood Film Festival for his "truly compelling, subtly layered" performance as Detective Loki.[11]

Reviews were not all positive. Writing in The New Republic, David Thompson declared that the film was "weary after ten minutes" and furthermore "hideous, cruel, degrading, depressing, relentless, prolonged, humorless, claustrophobic, and a mockery of any surviving tradition in which films are entertaining."[12] A mixed review came from Sheila O'Malley of RogerEbert.com, who gave the film 2.5 stars out of a possible 4. She wrote that Jackman's performance grew "monotonous" and that the film sometimes verged on pretentiousness, but was redeemed by a few excellent suspense sequences and Gyllenhaal's performance, whose "subtlety is welcome considering all the teeth gnashing going on in other performances."[13]

Top ten lists[edit]

Prisoners was listed on various critics' top ten lists.[14]


Award Date of ceremony Category Recipient(s) Result
Academy Awards March 2, 2014 Best Cinematography Roger Deakins Nominated
American Society of Cinematographers February 1, 2014 Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography in Theatrical Releases Nominated
Chicago Film Critics Association December 16, 2013 Best Cinematography Nominated
Critics' Choice Movie Awards January 16, 2014 Best Cinematography Nominated
Empire Awards March 30, 2014 Best Thriller Nominated
Hollywood Film Festival[11] October 21, 2013 Best Supporting Actor Jake Gyllenhaal Won
Key Art Awards[16] October 24, 2013 Best Teaser – Audio/Visual "Ticking" Bronze
Make-Up Artists and Hair Stylists Guild Awards[17] February 15, 2014 Best Contemporary Make-Up Donald Mowat and Pamela Westmore Won
National Board of Review December 4, 2013 Best Cast Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis, Maria Bello, Terrence Howard, Melissa Leo, Paul Dano and Dylan Minnette Won
Top Ten Films Won
People's Choice Awards January 8, 2014 Favorite Dramatic Movie Nominated
San Diego Film Critics Society December 11, 2013 Best Cinematography Roger Deakins Nominated
Best Performance by an Ensemble Nominated
Best Original Screenplay Aaron Guzikowski Nominated
Satellite Awards February 23, 2014 Best Cinematography Roger Deakins Nominated
Best Editing Gary D. Roach and Joel Cox Nominated
Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture Jake Gyllenhaal Nominated
Saturn Awards June 26, 2014 Best Make-up Donald Mowat Won
Best Supporting Actress Melissa Leo Nominated
Best Thriller Film Nominated
Toronto International Film Festival September 15, 2013 People's Choice Award Denis Villeneuve 3rd Place
Washington D.C. Area Film Critics Association December 9, 2013 Best Ensemble Nominated


The Prisoners soundtrack, composed by Jóhann Jóhannsson, was released on September 20, 2013.[18]

1."The Lord's Prayer"Jóhann Jóhannsson2:31
2."I Can't Find Them"Jóhann Jóhannsson4:09
3."The Search Party"Jóhann Jóhannsson2:54
4."Surveillance Video"Jóhann Jóhannsson3:34
5."The Candlelight Vigil"Jóhann Jóhannsson5:10
6."Escape"Jóhann Jóhannsson5:44
7."The Tall Man"Jóhann Jóhannsson2:47
8."The Everyday Bible"Jóhann Jóhannsson2:23
9."Following Keller"Jóhann Jóhannsson2:11
10."Through Falling Snow"Jóhann Jóhannsson2:44
11."The Keeper"Jóhann Jóhannsson2:49
12."The Intruder"Jóhann Jóhannsson3:11
13."The Priest's Basement"Jóhann Jóhannsson2:48
14."The Snakes"Jóhann Jóhannsson2:51
15."The Trans Am"Jóhann Jóhannsson2:37
16."Prisoners"Jóhann Jóhannsson6:59
Total length:55:00[19]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "PRISONERS (15)". E1 Films. British Board of Film Classification. September 13, 2013. Retrieved September 13, 2013.
  2. ^ a b c "Prisoners (2013)". Box Office Mojo. IMDb. Retrieved January 10, 2014.
  3. ^ "Hugh Jackman to Star in Vigilante Thriller PRISONERS for November 2013 Release". Collider.com. March 15, 2012. Retrieved March 4, 2013.
  4. ^ a b c Giroux, Jack. "Interview: The Back-to-Basics Brutality of 'Prisoners'". Retrieved July 28, 2017.
  5. ^ http://collider.com/production-begins-on-denis-villeneuves-thriller-prisoners-starring-hugh-jackman-and-jake-gyllenhaal/
  6. ^ "Prisoners (2013)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango. Retrieved October 27, 2018.
  7. ^ "Prisoners (2013)". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved June 29, 2019.
  8. ^ Pamela McClintock (October 18, 2013). "CinemaScore in Retreat as Studios Turn to PostTrak". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved January 28, 2019.
  9. ^ https://www.cinemascore.com/publicsearch/index/title/
  10. ^ Travers, Peter (2013). 'Prisoners' Review, RollingStone.com, accessed January 27, 2017
  11. ^ a b Feinberg, Scott (September 23, 2013). "Jake Gyllenhaal to Receive Acting Honor at Hollywood Film Awards (Exclusive)". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved April 4, 2014.
  12. ^ Thompson, David (2013). 'Prisoners' and the Rotten State of Hollywood, NewRepublic.com, accessed January 27, 2017
  13. ^ O'Malley, Sheila (2013). Prisoners review, RogerEbert.com, accessed January 27, 2017
  14. ^ http://www.metacritic.com/feature/film-critic-top-10-lists-best-movies-of-2013
  15. ^ http://www.indiewire.com/article/indiewires-editors-and-bloggers-pick-this-top-10-films-and-tv-shows-of-2013
  16. ^ "Catalog: Audio/Visual – Winners". Key Art Awards. Archived from the original on December 13, 2013. Retrieved April 4, 2014.
  17. ^ Giardina, Carolyn (February 15, 2014). "Dallas Buyers Club, Bad Grandpa Win at Make-Up Artists and Hair Stylists Awards". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved April 4, 2014.
  18. ^ "Prisoners Soundtrack". SoundtrackMania.com. Retrieved August 1, 2014.
  19. ^ "Prisoners Soundtrack". Soundtrack.Net. Retrieved August 1, 2014.

External links[edit]