Two average suburban American families, meet up to celebrate Thanksgiving together, everything is normal, safe and secure.
Both families take great care to ensure their younger daughters are accompanied between households. Whilst out, they briefly climb and play on an RV that is parked in the street, they come back inside the house.
Later they decide to out again, same ritual but this time they do not come back, the older children did not accompany them, everything is not normal, nothing will ever be safe and secure again.
The parents of “Anna”, god fearing and practical survivalist “Keller Dover” (Hugh Jackman) and his wife “Grace” (Maria Bello), look in all the usual places. The respective parents of “Kyla”, “Franklin” (Terrence Howard) and “Nancy” (Viola Davis) also come up short, the young girls have disappeared, the police are called.
Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) has seen it all before, he is sympathetic, diligent and above all, realistic. The Police get a lucky break, the RV is spotted locally and before long the driver is in custody.
Alex Jones (Paul Dano) is everyone’s idea of someone that could abduct young children, with Jeffrey Dahmer style glasses, strange ways, hushed voice and the mental age of a ten year old. Soon he is a prime suspect, but following questioning the police are obliged to let him go.
The film centres around how far you would go, to find out what you need to know. If the information is important enough, what might you do to find your loved ones?
To use the well known quote from Nietzsche, “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process, he does not become a monster”.
When the children disappear, the initial casual concern escalates and is believably portrayed, making every parents nightmare real. The film asks some difficult questions, with no easy answers. Hugh Jackman plays a character we have not seen from him before. Whilst on occasion the acting is visible, perhaps due to how we normally perceive him. However, this is most definitely no Wolverine in civvies. All the central characters are good, notably Gyllenhaal and Jackman who are given the most to do.
Davis and Bello as the grieving mothers are equally strong, as their known world starts to collapse around them. Both cope in different ways, driving a wedge into their relationships with their partners.
However, Dano is the actor to watch. With so few words of dialogue, he still manages to convey a character who is at once, terrified, an object of pity, suspicion and yet still very obviously human.
The film is filmed in a gritty down to earth, suburban grey and rain soaked style. Like the “Killing” TV series or “Seven”, without the horror element. These are real people, in ordinary locations and everyday clothes. The abnormality of the crime screaming from behind white picket fences.
There is much portentous music and on occasion we are being told what to feel but overall, this is classy, intelligent work. Guessing who did what, when and why is what these movies are all about and this does not disappoint.
Some have drawn parallels with the War on Terror, this reviewer did not draw that conclusion, although it could be easily found. On this occasion, maybe a “cigar is just a cigar”, what you see is what you get.
By necessity the film is adult in content, however the violence is not gratuitous and whilst certain undercurrents exist, there is nothing obvious to make viewing uncomfortable. The ending deserves a mention, knowing when to fade to black is an art. Canadian director Denis Villeneuve in his largest project to date, has chosen well.
Anchored with strong performances, an excellent thriller with a solid human drama centre.
A long film at 153 minutes but they disappear quickly, with the audience desperate to know what happens next.