Jake Gyllenhaal did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Detective Loki in Prisoners.
The film follows closely the father Keller Dover played by Hugh Jackman as he goes down a questionable path of torture in attempt to find his child. The film though gives just as much focus to the investigation lead detective of the case played by Jake Gyllenhaal. Where the investigation of the father is a constantly emotionally charged affair, which makes sense, but even more so due to Jackman's performance. Hugh Jackman often seems to be an actor who, for better or for worse, seems to try to give one hundred and ten percent with his performances. That is definitely the case here where he technically hits the right notes with his performance but he hits them a little too hard at times sometimes unfortunately make his acting more noticeable than really what the character is going through.
Jake Gyllenhaal on the other hand gives a far more measured performance in his portrayal of Detective Loki who is a detective who has successfully solved all of his cases before the film begins. When we first meet him Gyllenhaal is very effective in portraying the process of the Loki. When he is talking to the family about the situation Gyllenhaal properly suggests that he definitely invested in the case and suggests the thought process as he asks the questions about the abduction. Gyllenhaal is careful to show the slight act when Dover starts to become increasingly emotional during the questioning. When Loki tells Dover that we need to relax Gyllenhaal is terrific because he shows that actual type of police training in him with the appropriate artifice as it is something Loki does in very specific situations.
Gyllenhaal finds the right balance in the role to make a fully believable portrait of a Detective in such a case. Gyllenhaal shows Loki as almost ever so slightly aloof early on and most of all very calm. Gyllenhaal brings the confidence of Loki's success in these early scenes, and does properly suggest that Loki knows what he is doing and is sticking to his procedure properly. Gyllenhaal even goes so far as to almost be even slightly humorous in his performance and keeps Loki somewhat lighthearted as he goes around investigating sexual deviants to try to narrow down the case. This is not Gyllenhaal making Loki to be some sort of lifeless jerk, but rather this instead reinforces the idea that Loki is very much a professional and taking many of the developments of the case in stride is his way of keeping on task.
Gyllenhaal also avoid any problems from this approach in the way he portrays Loki's reactions when there appear to be any dark developments in the case including things like a rotting corpse in a cellar or perhaps a boxes filled with snakes and some bloodied clothes. Gyllenhaal is excellent in any of these scenes because technically speaking he still keeps the police command of the situation as he does not show Loki to become some sort of nervous wreck or anything but he very effectively portrays the reaction of a normal man seeing what Loki must see. He makes every revelation and scene all the more intense and gives them a greater impact because of how just realistic he is in showing Loki's reaction. Gyllenhaal always feels spot on here and following him through the investigation is a compelling experience because of him.
The film follows Loki through the case but as well with dealing with the increasingly intense Dover who definitely seems to be hiding something from Loki. As the case slowly gets less understandable and more hopeless that the girls will be found Loki will of course becomes more invested. Gyllenhaal is remarkable though because he never cheats in his portrayal of this. In his scenes with Jackman Gyllenhaal still keeps the appropriate distance as he should, but as well as a strong coldness towards Dover's behavior. Gyllenhaal again conveys the professionalism of Loki as a detective that keeps him this way toward Dover. Gyllenhaal does properly suggest in convincing subtle fashion that he understands Dover, but also he very blunt in showing that Loki really believes that Dover's behavior in no way is helping the case.
Away Dover, and appropriately so as the lead detective would not want to show any weakness to the victims, Gyllenhaal very naturally reveals and builds Loki's frustrations and struggle with the case. Gyllenhaal handles it so delicately, never rushing a moments of it, and never once going overboard either, his very genuine depiction of Loki losing his resolve resonates powerfully. Even though I feel the film and Jackman often try a little too hard to emotionally charge the film, Gyllenhaal actually handles this much better by taking his more reflective approach. When Gyllenhaal brings the big emotions out you real feel them because he always does it at the right time, and in the right way.
I suppose one thing I should quickly mention is that Gyllenhaal plays Loki as man with a tic where he will blink a lot. It really is not an essential part of his character or anything, but I'll say it reminded me of someone I know who blinks just that way, so good job Gyllenhaal although I don't know if it was particularly necessary. Anyway Gyllenhaal easily is the best thing about the film and managed to amplify every scene of the film he is in through his realistic depiction of the full weight of one detectives investigation into a horrible crime. When I think of the strength of his performance the first scene I think of is Detective Loki's rush to the hospital at the end of the film, I found that a thrilling moment, the direction and music of course was well done, but what really kept me in the scene was Gyllenhaal's fierce portrayal of what Loki is going through both physically and mentally.