Byline: Dann Gire Daily Herald Film Critic firstname.lastname@example.org By Dann Gire Daily Herald Film Critic email@example.com
It's all about the basements.
In Denis Villeneuve's nervy, vervy child-abduction drama "Prisoners," the basements hold the clues to the characters who live above them.
Take Keller Dover, played by Hugh Jackman, a working-class husband and dad who tells his teen son he can't afford to help him purchase a cheap used car.
Yet, Keller has stocked his basement with hundreds if not thousands of dollars worth of ammunition, water, food and survival supplies that will never be used.
Aaron Guzikowski's airtight screenplay never points out that Keller's priorities might be a bit skewed. It's just another subtle clue to Jackman's small-town character in this amazing, disturbing motion picture that plays with familiar thriller conventions while rejecting most of the genre clichs.
"Hope for the best," Keller cautions his son, "and prepare for the worst."
But no father can prepare for what happens here.
In a small Pennsylvania town where nobody locks the front door, two families gather for a Thanksgiving feast. Keller and his wife, Grace (Maria Bello), have a son Ralph (Dylan Minnette) and daughter Anna (Erin Garasimovich).
Frank and Nancy Birch (Terrence Howard and Viola Davis) have a daughter Joy (Kyla-Drew Simmons).
By the end of the meal, the parents barely notice their daughters haven't been seen since they left to play together. They've disappeared. The only clue: an old RV parked on the street with someone inside playing the radio.
We first see detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) eating his Thanksgiving dinner alone in a Chinese restaurant. The tattoos on his neck and hand signal us that this quietly angry cop won't be a regular Hollywood detective.
He promises to find the girls -- he has never failed to close a case. But when he can't pin enough evidence on the RV driver, a mentally challenged young man named Alex Jones (Paul Dano), the cops release him.
Furious and frustrated, Keller decides to act, for he knows that the longer a child remains missing, the less likely she will be found alive. …