“Prisoners” Casting Review

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

Comprising an all star cast of Hollywood heavyweights, Prisoners is a thrilling drama that will not only entertain, but also make you question what you would do if you were in the same position as the characters in this film. The story revolves around the kidnapping of two young girls, and the lengths that their families and the police go to in order to get them back. This movie is packed to the brim with A-list actors, and includes the likes of Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis, Maria Bello, Terrence Howard, Melissa Leo, and Paul Dano. However, just because a film has an all star cast doesn’t mean that it’s going to be a sure-fire success, and faces the same kinds of challenges that other films experience when working with an ensemble of actors. Thankfully, you’ll be pleased to know that Prisoners cleverly navigates these issues, and the end result won’t disappoint.

Although this is an ensemble piece, Jackman and Gyllenhaal are definitely the story’s main protagonists, and their conflicts (both with each other and with the other characters in the film) propel the narrative forward. Jackman plays “Keller Dover”, a seemingly normal husband and father who is forced to take measures into his own hands when his daughter, “Anna”, goes missing. In the other corner, Gyllenhaal plays “Detective Loki”, the leading investigator on the kidnapping case. Although Gyllenhaal is no stranger to gritty roles, Jackman’s Keller is a decidedly darker change of pace for the Aussie actor, who’s typically more known for playing the traditional, likeable leading man/superhero prototype. It’s refreshing to see Jackman play more of the anti-hero, and this role continues to show his versatility as an actor—whether he’s slashing up the big screen as Wolverine or belting out Broadway musicals, he can do it all! Gyllenhaal deserves just as much praise here as he is able to create a flawed but redeeming character in his role as Detective Loki. Although he is very much the hero of the story, Gyllenhaal’s character is definitely edgy, dark, and flawed—which is also a nice change of pace from his more “squeaky clean” hero roles.

Besides the film’s two leading protagonists, the cast is rounded out by top-notch performances, which should come as no surprise to anyone considering the actors involved. Maria Bello plays “Grace Dover”, the wife to Jackman’s Keller, who quickly falls into depression when her daughter disappears. Terrence Howard and Viola Davis play “Franklin and Nancy Birch”, family friends to the Dovers whose daughter also goes missing. Unlike the more aggressive Keller, Franklin is more sympathetic and acts as a sort of voice of reason here. Davis’ Nancy is more tolerant of Keller’s methods—she won’t actively participate, but she certainly won’t stop Keller from doing what he “has” to do.

Then, on the opposite side of the spectrum, Melissa Leo and Paul Dano play the enigmatic “Holly and Alex Jones”. Dano continues to impress, and seems to always be readily able to slip into the skin of unique and complex characters. In Prisoners, he plays a creepy, almost mentally-challenged young man, and the prime suspect in the kidnapping case. Although the authorities are forced to release him from custody when they are unable to bring up any formal charges against him, Keller, convinced that Alex is guilty, then kidnaps him to try and force a confession out of him. Dano literally has only a handful of spoken lines in the film, but what he brings to the picture with his physicality, presence and emotional expressions more than compensates for any lack of dialogue. Funny enough, one of Dano’s early breakout roles was in the indie darling Little Miss Sunshine, where he played an “emo”, angst-ridden teen who also hardly ever spoke. Oscar-winner Melissa Leo undergoes a bit of a transformation in her role as Holly, the aunt and sole caretaker for Dano’s Alex. Leo is another actress with the ability to seamlessly slip into various roles, and most people probably won’t even recognize her in this film—not because her role requires heavy makeup, prosthetics, etc. but because she creates such a complex character that she is able to wrap herself up in.

Finally, even though this film is full of movie “stars”, there are other actors and roles worth noting, as well. Wayne Duvall (O Brother, Where Art Thou?; Lincoln) has a humorous role as “Captain Richard O’Malley”, and has a lot of fun back and forth banter with Gyllenhaal’s Loki, adding small moments of much-needed levity throughout this mostly dark and heavy film. Young actor Dylan Minnette (Let Me In) also pops in this film, and plays “Ralph”, the son of Jackman and Leo. Minnette is definitely a solid up-and-comer, and you will probably continue to see him in many more projects in years to come.

Films with high-profile ensemble casts are always interesting affairs. These movies are often more beneficial for the new and relatively unknown actors involved rather than the leads themselves. This phenomenon is understandable: since actors like Hugh Jackman are already household names (and will, therefore, sell tickets), the up-and-coming actor is exposed to these larger audiences, and can gain increased notoriety, especially if the role is fairly substantial and memorable. Having a star-heavy cast also doesn’t always guarantee success, and a movie that has a lackluster script, director, etc. will still be a lackluster movie no matter who is cast in it. Thankfully, that is not the case with Prisoners, due largely in part to the film’s dark and deeply complex story and tone. A project like this calls for an experienced and critically acclaimed cast, which this film delivers . . . and then some.

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Kyle