News Column

'Prisoners' director has a strong cast in this new film, including Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal.

September 20, 2013

YellowBrix

Sept. 20--French-Canadian director Denis Villeneuve was having a crisis when I talked to him from Toronto recently.

"One of my kids lost his passport. I was about to kill him," he laughs. "The problem is that when something like this happens, you have to leave everything and find a solution quickly."

Villeneuve, who helmed the Oscar-nominated foreign language film "Incendies," could be excused for feeling some pressure. The father of three was dealing with two films being presented at the Toronto Film Festival, "Enemy" and "Prisoners," which is being released today.

His first English-language film release, "Prisoners" stars Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal. The thriller revolves around the kidnapping of two young girls. Jackman plays the father of one of them, Kelly Dover, a carpenter and a survivalist with a bit of a religious bent. Gyllenhaal is Loki, a local police detective who is heading the investigation. Intent on finding the girl, Loki is also a by-the-book guy who is haunted by his own childhood, which is evident in a facial tic and his homemade tattoos.

Early on, a suspect (Paul Dano) is picked up but is quickly released because the police have no evidence he was connected to the case. This doesn't sit well with Dover, whom Jackman gives an intense hulking presence to. The carpenter, a recovering alcoholic, who feels that the police are running out of time soon decides to take action of his own.

The filmmaker says when he got involved in the movie two years ago, he told the producers that the main thing about the film would be the casting "because there are no small parts -- all the characters are going to specific dark places."

He found some top-flight actors for the film, including Oscar-winner Melissa Leo, as well as Golden Globe-nominee Mario Bello and Oscar-nominees Viola Davis and Terrence Howard. Villeneuve says a lot of the "quality of the film is due to the quality of the acting," and credits Jackman and Gyllenhaal for digging into their roles, which aren't especially likeable.

"Hugh is such a powerful actor, and he was so generous," the director says. For the role of Loki, Villeneuve felt Gyllenhaal -- who also stars in "Enemy" -- could flesh out the part. "It was his idea to give the character a tic. Love it when actors bring little details to the history of their characters."

While the child abduction aspect is important to the story, Villeneuve says what attracted him to Aaron Guzikowski's script was that it "explored different points of view about how people would react when confronted with the idea of torture -- whether you help with it or whether you shut your eyes and shut your mouth."

Originally set in Massachusetts, Villeneuve moved the action to the Pittsburgh area and notes that "Prisoners" is essentially an American story. "We could've made it into a Western about an individual not trusting his institutions who takes the law into his own hands."

Still, the filmmaker says he can relate to many parts of the story. "Right now French-Canadians are upset with our institutions. There is a lot coming out in the press about massive corruption. Montreal looks like the worst Italian city corrupted by the Mafia --it's ridiculous."

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(c)2013 the Daily News (Los Angeles)

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