An annual Thanksgiving gathering with the Birch and Dover families’ proved to be a nightmare neither family would forget. Relaxing at the home of neighborhood friends, Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) is a proud yet underemployed husband and father of two, doing what he thinks is best to support them. Deciding to leave their troubles aside for another day, what was to be a casual and familiar shared holiday turned out to be anything but when the Dover’s six-year-old daughter Anna (Erin Gerasimovich), and her best friend Joy Birch (Kyla Drew Simmons) are kidnapped in broad daylight.
Panic sets in when the families go in search of the girls only to turn up loose ends, one after the other, except for one suspect, Alex (Paul Dano), a developmentally challenged young adult who factors central to the intensity of the story.
Alex knows something and taunts Keller with bits and pieces of info but nothing leads to the missing girls. Driven to madness, Keller goes way
past insanity taking matters into his own hands when police detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) has no answers. Meanwhile, Grace Dover (Mario Bello), Keller’s wife is coming unglued emotionally and psychologically, day-by-day. Keller –firmly rooted as the provider and protector– is not living up to the family’s expectations and; his own self-imposed guilt keeps him in high gear.
Despite being a religious, faith-centered household, all rationale is lost.
In a fitful turn, Keller takes drastic measures and pulls Franklin Birch (Terrence Howard) into his concocted scheme to find their girls. They are
keeping Keller’s clandestine plan away from their wives pretending to be on extended searches for the girls. Pressure mounts and Franklin caves: he tells his wife Nancy (Viola Davis) what tragedy has occurred over and above the girls’ kidnapping. Mustering the intestinal fortitude to see it Keller’s way, Nancy takes the upper hand in the Birch household. She wants to find her daughter Joy as much as Keller wants to find his Anna.
Franklin wrestles with his sense of judgment; Nancy is equally torn but maintains that Joy’s safety overrules.
Terence Howard explained the essence of his character’s sensibilities stating, “I jokingly refer to my role as the woman in the marriage with an emotionally stronger spouse. The character’s arc comes from personal influences in the sense that I grew up in a household with my grandmother, my mom, my great grandmother, and my great, great grandmother. Love was such a huge impetus and a theme throughout the house. I remember the words of advice from my great, great grandmother who we had until I was 13 years old. Anytime something was going on she would tell me, ‘just be still Terry, just be still and wait on God, everything will work itself out.’
“So I’ve always seen the woman as the person that really carries the spirit of God throughout the household. The father normally carries the hand of God, but the woman carries the love of God. For this character I had to refer back to those tender ages of her cradling me through a lot of terrible situations in my life and reminding me to just be still. Half of the time, I was looking at Hugh (Jackman) directly in his eyes trying to transfer into his mind just to be still. That’s why I refer to it as the sensibilities of a woman because when Adam (biblical context) was in the Garden of Eden, he had God but he didn’t know great love until the woman (Eve) showed up.”
Religion and conflicting views also factor centrally in this story. Melissa Leo commented, “As a kid,
everybody had a religion to belong to and I experienced several Passovers growing up; my father was Jewish though we weren’t a church-going family. Because such, that then leaves me open to do aspects of religion with freedom and respect toward the script. If I had had a stronger faith, a particular Christian God myself, there might have been an argument about some of the things my character, Holly, has to say. But for me, I could get inside of Holly and exactly what you’re pointing out. I think she was not only of faith but I think she was of deep faith long before you meet her in the movie. She suffered a tragic loss and I think too, to feel a loss of faith in what happened so close to her, I believe she did spread the good word, then to lose that faith is yet another sense of the imprisonment or loss that all the characters have.”
PRISONERS is one of the best films of the year. It opens in theaters, Friday, September 20 from Warner Bros.