Denis Villeneuve’s gripping kidnapping drama wins the award for the most on-the-nose title of the year. Everyone is a prisoner in his film; trapped by their grief, their past or, in an all too literal sense, by another person. It is the theme of a twisting and turning investigation narrative that does everything by the book, and yet produces fairly run-of-the-mill results.

The film is skillfully shot; the monotonous, grey setting perfectly matches the tragic tones of the film. It also boasts an impressive, big-name cast featuring Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal, both on fine form. Combining this with an intense narrative based around the disappearance of two young girls, in theory it should be a film of the year candidate. Instead it’s a mysterious case of a story not adding up to the sum of its part. Its main issues ultimately boil down to a distinct lack of subtlety. It is a story that is laden with twists and teeming with symbolism, yet Villeneuve shows an obvious distrust in his audience by clearly signposting all these key moments rather than letting them play out naturally.

It is a shame, as there are plenty of nice flourishes throughout. The manner in which each parent deals with their missing child serves as an interesting examination of grief. Jackman is a ball of misplaced rage, while his wife (Marie Bella) chooses to bury her head in the sand through self-medicating. Equally refreshing is its refusal to add a Hollywood gloss to the dark subject matter. It is a film that is sufficiently nasty when it needs to be; Jackman’s bloodied knuckles are testament to that.

The casting of Paul Dano as prime suspect Alex Jones proves to be the masterstroke. An actor blessed with a fantastic range that allows him to switch from sympathetic man-child to borderline psychopath mid-sentence. It makes him the ideal candidate for such an ambiguous character. He shines amongst an immensely talented cast, including Terrance Howard, Melissa Leo and Viola Davis, who do everything that is expected of them, without ever dazzling in the way Dano does. It is indicative of a film that on paper should be on shortlists for best of the year, but ultimately lingers short in the memory.

Michael Clancy