'Prisoners' captures rage and despair of a vulnerable America at Toronto film fest

Sat Sep 7, 2013 10:18am EDT
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By Mary Milliken

TORONTO (Reuters) - Forget for a minute the Hugh Jackman of Broadway musicals and "Les Miserables" and "X-Men" movies, and envision the Australian actor as a Pennsylvania survivalist and desperate father who takes justice into his own hands.

As a carpenter without enough work who stockpiles supplies and doesn't trust government, he is the seething vigilante who drives the dark thriller "Prisoners," one of the most talked-about films at the Toronto International Film Festival and the subject of early Oscar buzz.

Playing opposite Jake Gyllenhaal's small town detective, Jackman's Keller Dover embodies what French Canadian director Denis Villeneuve calls a "lack of confidence in the institutions."

While "Prisoners" is the story of every parent's worst nightmare - the disappearance of two small girls - it is also a depiction of a country in decline, with human connections unraveling and communities near collapse.

"It is a part of America that deeply touched me, the vulnerability of America," said Villeneuve. "We see a lot of movies about the strength and the power and beauty of America. As everything does, it has its own dark side too."

"Prisoners" is Villeneuve's first Hollywood studio film, from Warner Bros., and his first in English after his "Incendies" was nominated for an Academy Award for best foreign language film.

After premiering last week at the Telluride Film Festival in Colorado, "Prisoners" garnered excellent reviews. Variety film critic Scott Foundas said it "immediately enters the ring as an awards-season heavyweight" and that Jackman and Gyllenhaal turned in career-best performances.

While the story of missing children could have been set in any place or time, Villeneuve said present day Pennsylvania and its soulless "exurbs" was the perfect setting, areas without strong community centers and linked together by highways.   Continued...

Australian actor Hugh Jackman arrives for the "Prisoners" screening at the 38th Toronto International Film Festival in Toronto September 6, 2013. REUTERS/Mark Blinch