Steve McQueen's 12 Years a Slave may have changed the Best Picture game last night at the Toronto Film Festival, but Prisoners, from Incendies director Denis Villeneuve, also impressed local audiences at the packed Elgin theater. They waited until after 9:30 p.m. for their countryman's two-and-a-half-hour film to start, and then stayed for the Q&A.
Villeneuve’s first English-language feature centers on the abduction of two little girls, ages six and seven, from their middle-class Pennsylvania neighborhood on Thanksgiving Day, and the response – at times shocking – of their parents, played by Hugh Jackman, Maria Bello, Viola Davis and Terrence Howard. Jake Gyllenhaal is Detective Loki, a dogged investigator who has never failed to solve a case, Paul Dano plays a quiet neighborhood boy and Melissa Leo plays his aunt. (Villeneuve’s doppelgänger thriller Enemy, which also stars Gyllenhaal and ultimately brought pair together to make Prisoners, will screen in Toronto tomorrow night.)
"Denis is obsessed in the themes in his movies. He picks a number of things that intellectually and emotionally stimulate him and he will follow that through, through an entire movie," Gyllenhaal said in the discussion following the film. He recounted working with Villeneuve on the character's history, exploring "how this guy was a prisoner also, had been trapped himself." As Gyllenhaal spoke, two women interrupted from the orchestra" "We love you, Jake!" they cried. "I have nothing but love tonight. Whoever you are, I think I love you too," Gyllenhaal responded. "That was a heavy movie so I just feel like a little bit of love might be good."
A double feature preceded by the wrenching 12 Years a Slave might test one's threshold for humanity-questioning kidnapping narratives. But the audience stayed rapt on Villeneuve's twisted tale, which feels a little like an amusement park ride contained in the dark, where you never see the drop coming until you are barreling down the hill.
"What I loved about the script was the moral ambiguity," Hugh Jackman said after the screening. "The film kind of delves into and plays with the whole idea of whether [my character] is heroic or not. I remember watching the film with my wife and she spent the first hour holding my hand, but squeezing it to the point I had indentations. But there was a certain point in the movie where my wife actually took her hand away from mine. I think that she was getting uncomfortable."
"I think that’s where the movie exists," Jackman continued. "And what we concentrated on was making that primal urge for all the characters real, so that even that if you didn’t agree, or if you were uncomfortable, you understood where all the characters were going."