A peek at humanity’s more savage side

Movie: Prisoners; Director: Denis Velleneuve; Studio: Warner Bros.; Rating: R; My finding: 4 out of 5 stars.

“Prisoners” is a film bereft of joy.

Once the pieces are set up, which are familiar enough for those who enjoy going to the movies to feel deflated, there is no conceivable way that a silver lining could emerge out of such a fine collection of human tragedy.

Keller (Hugh Jackman) is the hard-working, small-time contractor patriarch of the Dover family in suburban Pennsylvania. The film opens on a hunting trip he takes with his teen son, Ralph, in which a deer is bagged following a whispering of the Lord’s Prayer.

It’s a one-shot kill and Keller is proud of his son, but already there are glimpses that that prayer and the cross hanging from the rear-view mirror in his company truck are reminders of the solace Keller, like others, finds in religion. It’s apparent early on that the religion tempers a tightly wound man of great intensity, a role Jackman was born to play.

That night the family walks across their neighborhood to have dinner with the Birch family. And all is well under the out-of-practice noise coming from Franklin Birch’s (Terrence Howard) disused trumpet.

The two little girls, Anna and Joy, are playing with some hamsters following a walk with their older siblings.

But then they decide to walk back over to the Dover home, forgetting to grab their siblings in the process. They disappear as the rain begins to beat down on the bleak day toward the beginning of Winter.

As an unmarried and childless writer I can’t begin to imagine the panic a parent would feel in this situation, but I don’t find it too implausible that Keller would lose the cool he has imposed on himself with so many prayers and the restraint society imposes.

This is another film release colored by the world surrounding it. In this case, a film so without joy can also house more humanity than the world it is thrust into.

Already the Navy Yard shootings, barely a week and a half old, have seemed to be the forgotten spree. We’re a world full of tragedy, and it’s just like so much news printed in black and white to ho-hum over. It’s hard not to when it’s become so commonplace.

Much closer to the themes here, though, the film nearly works as an oracle in shedding light on a mind like that of Ariel Castro in Cleveland earlier this year. Production schedules for films aren’t all that quick, so the release surrounding so much similar material in the real world can hardly have been on purpose – but maybe it’s not that coincidental either.

Finally, two families are beat down to an emotional wire in this hard focus tale. Franklin, on one

side, trusts in the idea of the police and other authority figures to bring his daughter home, or at least to find answers.

But Keller isn’t so sure. He has his man, he knows it, and that man is Alex Jones (Paul Dano), a mentally scarred and crippled late-20s loner who drives around the town in a filthy RV.

Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal), a focused detective in the municipal police department who wears his shirts buttoned to the top to presumably hide the large star tattoo on his neck, had found the camper matching the description of the one found in the neighborhood.

He questioned Jones fully, but he couldn’t make much out of him, explaining to Keller that you can’t really use a polygraph test if the suspect doesn’t understand the questions.

But time is of the essence and Keller is convinced.

Dano is absolutely perfect playing this broken man, who looks so much like an abductor in his mannerisms and his Jeffrey Dahmer looks.

But even better is Gyllenhaal, who can mirror Jackman here. Gyllenhaal has become increasingly impressive as he has allowed his roles to darken starting in 2005 with “Jarhead” and “Brokeback Mountain.” But it was last year’s “End of Watch” that finally washed the vile taste of “Donnie Darko” away.

It’s the last movie that had kept me up and had upended by own views of the evil humans can inflict on one another.

And this movie does it one further by completely reducing humans to their base desires and animalistic instincts and impulses. We can be reduced to our own evil.

But further, the movie does what art should. It takes the forest of evil and tragedy our world has become of late and removes the broad context. It removes the politicalization that inevitably happens; it removes the numbers count for comparison; it removes the daily grind; and, instead, it gives focus on the actual physical effects these tragedies may have on those they actually affect.

(Flint McColgan is a staff writer for The Minot Daily News. His movie reviews appear in Thursday’s Arts &?Entertainment section.)