With the big-budget spectacles of summer behind us and the dramas of awards season on the horizon, French Canadian director Denis Villeneuve, a foreign-language Oscar nominee for 2010's
In an enthusiastic review in The Times, Betsy Sharkey wrote that "once this chilling thriller about a parent's worst nightmare grabs you, it refuses to let go." She added that "Villeneuve and screenwriter Aaron Guzikowski keep the tightly constructed terror twisting by holding it close."
Regarding the acting, Sharkey wrote, "There are excellent performances from a well-seasoned cast including
A.O. Scott of the
Of the two leading men, Scott wrote, "Mr. Jackman is solid and persuasive, but it is Mr. Gyllenhaal, with his downturned mouth and twitchy eyes, who anchors the film."
Puig added that the film "is infused with a poetic intensity that's rare in American thrillers." Like a number of her fellow critics, Puig likened "Prisoners" to David Fincher's "Zodiac" and
In a more measured review,
Peter Hartlaub echoed those sentiments in the San Francisco Chronicle. "It's easy to get lost in the first hour of 'Prisoners,' and that's a terrifying thing," he wrote. "A superb acting ensemble and smart filmmaking choices help to create an honest portrait of struggling middle-class America, before their relative serenity is disrupted tragically."
However, "[t]he last 40 minutes betray this truth, in ways that are often perplexing. It's difficult to remember a recent movie that soared so high, before plummeting with a series of bad story choices. But the end result is still a strong piece of cinema, a failure only if you dwell on what might have been."