Eppler: 'Prisoners' first shot fired in awards season battle

Reported by: James Eppler
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Updated: 9/24/2013 10:26 am

The opening scenes of "Prisoners" show us friendly families getting together for Thanksgiving - which is important for contrast because this is a movie about good people who go to some bleak,  brutal and dark places. When the families' two young daughters are kidnapped a cool-headed detective played by Jake Gyllenhaal catches on to a suspect quickly - a mentally handicapped man played by Paul Dano.

Without the evidence to hold him, and doubts the suspect has the mental capacity to pull off an abduction, police are forced to let him go, which sends one of the fathers, Hugh Jackman, over the edge.

Jackman is heartbreaking and frightening as a father willing to do whatever he sees necessary to find his daughter, and Terrence Howard and Viola Davis are wonderful as parents reluctantly willing to follow his lead. Gyllenhaal delivers his best work since Zodiac as a cop who starts to think he may need to investigate Jackman along with searching for the lost kids.

"Prisoners" isn't just a suspense thriller or a police procedural with twists and turns. It's an excellent character study. Characters get pushed to their limits with nauseating brutality and emotional payoffs that are well-earned.  You may not approve of what they do, but you might not condemn in either.

That's the challenge this movie presents, and why it gets under your skin.

EPPLER'S RATING: * * * *

Out of five stars

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