This moody police procedural with Jake Gyllenhaal in sublime form may be nearly three hours long, but it’s worth every minute – small town characters combining with big time themes to make a captivating thriller. Set as rain and then snow fall in the quiet suburbs of wintery Pennsylvania, the excellent cast also includes Hugh Jackman in great form as a father desperate to do something, anything, when his daughter goes missing.
Jackman plays Keller Dover, a working class man with a wife and two kids, a carpentry business, and a basement stocked to capacity in case of some catastrophic emergency. He’s a man who likes to be prepared. But it’s a quiet crime on a quiet street that shatters Keller’s world when his six year old daughter Anna goes missing on Thanksgiving day, along with Joy, the seven year old daughter of a family friend. On the case rapidly is Detective Loki (Gyllenhall), a thorough, practical policeman used to dealing with the limitations and frustrations of policing. He quickly apprehends a kidnapping suspect, Alex Jones (Paul Dano), seen driving a van in the same street where the girls vanished. But Jones turns out to be intellectually handicapped, a strangely eerie and docile character with the mental age of ten. With no clear evidence linking him to the girls, Jones is released after questioning, but a whispered word between he and Keller in a car park are enough to convince the desperate father than Jones is guilty. As Keller takes the law into his own hands, Loki quietly goes about his investigation, raking up old crimes and flushing out possible suspects. It’s an utterly engrossing process, the drama flipping between the absorbing investigation and Keller’s increasingly erratic actions.
Written by Aaron Guzikowski and directed by Denis Villeneuve (who directed the Oscar nominated Incendies), this is a poetic, slow boiling mystery tracing just how far someone will go to for the sake of their child, and how much we are all prisoners of our behaviour. Villeneuve and cinematographer Roger Deakins create an ominous mood from the very first shot, and no-one in the story is glamorised, Gyllenhaal building his detective as a troubled, thoughtful man with a nervous twitch. Composer Johann Johannsson adds to the unnerving mood with an excellent score, but it’s Gyllenhall’s vulnerable humanity that makes this completely and absorbing. Don’t let the 153 minute running time put you off.