Cast: Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Paul Dano
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller
Running Time: 153 minutes
Synopsis: How far would you go to protect your family? Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) is facing every parent's worst nightmare. His six-year-old daughter, Anna, is missing, together with her young friend, Joy, and as minutes turn to hours, panic sets in. The only lead is a dilapidated RV that had earlier been parked on their street. Heading the investigation, Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) arrests its driver, Alex Jones (Paul Dano), but a lack of evidence forces his release.
As the police pursue multiple leads and pressure mounts, knowing his child's life is at stake the frantic Dover decides he has no choice but to take matters into his own hands. But just how far will this desperate father go to protect his family?
Release Date: October 17th, 2013
It's a cold, cloudy Thanksgiving Day in a modest Pennsylvania suburb, the kind of town where kids ride their bikes and play in the streets every day. Inside a warm and welcoming home, the hardworking Dovers and Birches, the closest of friends and neighbors, share the traditional holiday meal together, relaxed, laughing, entirely at ease. All is right with the world.
In the blink of an eye, the two youngest girls, just six and seven years old, are nowhere to be found. It is perhaps the worst thing that any parent, any family, can imagine, and for the Dovers and Birches it begins a traumatic nightmare from which they cannot seem to escape. Director Denis Villeneuve states, '-Prisoners' deals with one of the most difficult subjects in life"missing children. The mere thought of it makes us uncomfortable, we are instantly overcome with fear. Having to think, -What would I do if this happened to me?' is truly unthinkable. You ask yourself how far you would go to find your child before time runs out and it's too late. Or what you would do to the person you knew in your heart was responsible, if given the chance. And what if you didn't take that chance, and it would've made a difference? Fear drives these thoughts and influences the answers. Even from the safety of a seat in a movie theater, the complex moral conflicts that can arise from our reaction to that singular emotion are fascinating. For me, as a filmmaker, to examine it and to look at our humanity through these richly drawn characters was so compelling that I was willing to face my own fears."
In the film, the police are called in and the girls' safe return becomes a race against the clock; everyone knows that the longer it takes to find them, the less likely it is they'll be found safe. When a suspect is apprehended by the police rather quickly, but released due to a lack of evidence, one father cannot bear their perceived blunder, or their calm and meaningless assurances. Feeling he has no choice, he will do whatever it takes to find the girls, no matter the consequences.
Hugh Jackman, who plays Keller Dover, father of missing Anna Dover, says, 'It is a classic ticking clock type of suspense thriller that keeps you on the edge of your seat, and really beautifully written, with great twists and turns. But it's also truly heartbreaking in its consideration of what happens to the human spirit, the psyche, the soul, under that kind of strain."
The story dives into the depths of the situation as it affects both families, as well as the community in which they live, and the policeman fighting time to solve the case before it's too late.
Jake Gyllenhaal, who portrays the lead detective on the case, appreciated the way the script examined the matter from both inside and outside of the families involved. 'It posed some really hard questions about how far you would go for the people that you love, while also taking a close-up look at the various interpersonal relationships in a small town when something like this happens, including the perspective of a cop, who is seen by some as part of the solution, and by others as part of the problem."
Producer Kira Davis, recalling her first reading of the script, notes, 'Even though, as a parent, it was so painful to even imagine going through something like this, I was taken by the intensity of the material, how much of a page-turner it was, and that I couldn't guess what was going to happen next. I liked that the story was told from the point of view of various characters, and that you see each of them having a very different emotional journey." 'Prisoners" was written by Aaron Guzikowski, who says his initial inspiration was something much less foreboding than it eventually became. 'What first came to me was just a feeling, the one you get when you misplace something as trivial as your car keys or cellphone," he remembers. 'That slight panic you feel when you reach for something where you knew it was, and it's not there anymore."
But that was before Guzikowski had children. 'Once I had kids, and tried to imagine that same sensation"but instead it's my child"it became something completely different. What does that do to a person's mind? How does it change him, what does it drive him to do that he would never normally do?"
Helping to guide Guzikowski through the scripting process was producer Adam Kolbrenner. 'Aaron never wavered in his commitment to the story and these incredible characters, from start to finish," he says. 'What was most important to him was how they each deal with this tragedy in their own way, and that it all start with something so innocent: the decision by the parents to let their little girls go outside. It's such a common occurrence, a choice that moms and dads make every single day."
Producer Broderick Johnson offers, 'Aaron's screenplay gripped you from the beginning. You met these lovely characters who suddenly had this unthinkable situation to deal with, and as it went along, the tension mounted and it became this dark, heart-pounding thriller that was both frightening and thought-provoking at the same time."
Acknowledging that the project poses hard questions with even harder answers, Johnson notes that the key for Alcon and the other producers was finding a director who could not only embrace such a difficult subject, but also bring it to the screen in such a way that the raw, underlying emotions were exposed for the audience to experience along with the characters on screen. 'If you look at Denis' work, one of the common threads you'll find is the absolute humanity, the grounded nature of the emotional conflicts. We knew the story would be in the best of hands with him."
Denis Villeneuve states, 'Right away, I was impressed with the way Aaron depicted what a parent will be ready to do to protect his or her child in such extraordinary circumstances, but also the way this violation of a family spread inside them and among them, destroying a part of their intimacy, and what each of them had to do to survive that. I was deeply moved." 'Denis Villeneuve came in and said, -I understand who these characters are, I understand what their journey is. I know how to relate to them and how I want to express that cinematically,'" Kolbrenner says. 'And that's exactly what he did. In a film that goes to the darkest places, the characters were in the hands of a filmmaker who brought passion and creativity to them every day."
'From the start, I felt I could approach the story in different ways," Villeneuve relates. 'It is dark, it is a tough subject, but it's also very profound, and I knew it would be interesting for audiences if the characters could feel alive to them, if they could truly connect with them." Guzikowski's story and Denis Villeneuve's approach to it attracted a top-flight roster of actors, including Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal, along with Viola Davis, Maria Bello, Terrence Howard, Melissa Leo and Paul Dano. And behind the camera, helping Villeneuve to capture the story was legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins.
'Beginning with Denis and Roger, and then our phenomenal cast, it really has been an embarrassment of riches on this movie, from top to bottom," Davis acknowledges.
Cast & Characters
The terrifying events that unfold in 'Prisoners," beginning with Anna Dover and Joy Birch's disappearance, cause each character to react in a manner he or she likely never would have thought possible. Especially Keller Dover. Hugh Jackman states, 'People don't behave politely under these extremes. People don't behave as though they care what anyone else thinks. Behavior becomes elemental, guttural. Whether they fall down and collapse, or get violent and angry, or disillusioned…whatever it is, it's honest. It's what they need to do at the time just to get through it."
Denis Villeneuve concurs. 'Each character in the film is, in one way or another, a prisoner"of circumstances, of his own neuroses, of fear. Each individual has to struggle with his own imprisonment, each one will have to fight their way out."
Dover is a blue collar carpenter and self-proclaimed survivalist, with a fully stocked basement to show for it. The loving husband and father of two is ready for anything. Or so he thought. 'My character has a line which I love, which is -Pray for the best, prepare for the worst,'" Jackman says. 'He has a contingency plan for everything…but not this. When his six-year-old daughter is gone, and he loses faith in the police to find her, he figures he is the one who will save her. He has a primal need to protect his family, and right now that means finding Anna."
'Keller has a lot of gear in his basement; in case something goes wrong in the world, he's ready," Denis Villeneuve adds. 'It's another extreme side to his personality that, on an ordinary day, wouldn't signify much, but now we see he doesn't trust society to take care of things, believing that only he can make sure his family survives. That carries over into his search for the girls."
Hugh Jackman did research into survivalist behavior. His character is also a recovering alcoholic, which comes into play at a critical juncture in the story, so the actor studied that as well, along with the effects of sleep deprivation over the course of several days. He combined those findings with what he learned often happens to family dynamics in these situations. He explains that Dover, in his self-appointed role as detective and with his desperate need to control the outcome, 'absolutely has to know what the police are doing, and that includes their methods, as well as all the statistics about missing children cases and how those numbers get worse with each day that passes."
The actor continues, 'Keller does not believe himself to be a vigilante. He's not just being emotional. He feels he has concrete evidence that the police are not listening to, and that maddens him even more, and also justifies his determination to track down this suspect and interrogate him himself."
Davis offers, 'I think any parent who had a child go missing and didn't feel that the proper steps were being taken by the police would start to panic. In fact, Keller very quickly starts to panic, thinking that if the police aren't doing enough, he has to do something. He believes he has a clue that no one is following up on, and that the authorities think he's just a hysterical father and don't believe him. Again, from the perspective of a parent, it's late fall, it's getting colder, and the chances of finding the girls are diminishing with every minute, so Keller feels he has no choice but to take things into his own hands."
'Hugh Jackman brought so much strength and humanity to Keller," Denis Villeneuve says. 'He's an unexpectedly emotional character driven to dark places that we, as human beings, know are inside of us, but don't want to look at. Keller shows us that dark side, so he had to be played by an actor who was willing to go there, to give everything of himself, and to explore both his desperation and vulnerability at the same time. Hugh's generosity to the character and his fellow actors was boundless."
Dover refuses to feel powerless, but he does feel betrayed by the police, particularly Detective Loki, lead investigator on the case. He asked just one thing of Loki, to keep their initial suspect in custody for more than 48 hours, and while it's not Loki's decision to let the man go, it's Loki who bears the brunt of Dover's anger and frustration.
'Keller immediately distrusts Loki," Kolbrenner observes. 'He sees him as young and inexperienced, and because Loki has no children of his own, Keller doesn't feel Loki can relate to what the families are going through and therefore isn't zealous enough in his quest to find the girls."
It was while Denis Villeneuve and Jake Gyllenhaal were working on their first film together, 'Enemy," that the script for 'Prisoners" came to the director. Villeneuve immediately thought of Gyllenhaal for the role of Detective Loki.
'Jake Gyllenhaal is a fantastic actor and a strong artist, and also a friend," Denis Villeneuve says. 'I was so happy that he agreed to play the part and take this journey with me."
Jake Gyllenhaal reveals, 'Denis knows my strengths, he knows where he can push me, where I get frustrated and where I find comfort in my work," Jake Gyllenhaal says. 'I've never worked with a director on two consecutive films before, but we were having such an amazing creative experience on the first film that I was excited about this one before I even read the script. And, when I did, I found the character really fascinating."
The director and actor spent time discussing the story and the conflict between Loki and Dover, evolving the depth and dimension of Jake Gyllenhaal's character even further. They established Loki's background as an orphan and a juvenile delinquent, shuffled in and out of foster homes, which may not be openly discussed in the movie, but comes through in the character we see on screen. 'After finding himself in the juvenile detention system, he eventually found his way into another institution, the police department. I think that's what makes him unafraid of getting into that world: he's seen it all before; it's familiar territory to him," Jake Gyllenhaal reasons.
The actor also believes that the hints of Loki's internal demons and the influences of his youth that we do see on screen say a lot about what makes him good at his job. 'He hides his history, particularly in the way that he dresses, though you see glimpses of his tattoos. He also spends a lot of time alone, observing others, keeping to himself rather than conversing with others apart from work. He's willing to get into the mindset of a suspect, to seek out the darkest recesses of the criminal psyche. He has focus, reserve, and intensity, but a boiling anger underneath, all of which make him very persistent, and a real skeptic at times, and very good at his job. And he knows it."
Loki's preference for working alone lowers his tolerance for Dover's interference in the search. 'From my character's side of things, what a parent goes through in a situation like this is incomprehensible," Jake Gyllenhaal continues. 'But there's a real naïveté in the way that Keller deals with it; he has no experience in solving a case or knowing what details to pay attention to. We have the same goal, which is to find his daughter, but there's something to be said for experience."
'Detective Loki is a dedicated, astute policeman," Johnson allows, 'but he's a little arrogant, and he believes that Keller's intuition, his absolute certainty that a particular suspect is guilty, is due to his own anxiety. Loki respects the position he's in as a father, but he doesn't take Keller's accusations that seriously. Keller is too aggressive for him; Loki needs to go about things meticulously and not cross anybody off the list."
'Loki has solved pretty much every case he's ever been assigned to," Hugh Jackman adds, 'and now he finds himself caught in this labyrinth. He thinks it's going one way and then something takes it in another direction. And the more strange and erratic Keller's behavior becomes, the more he's on his radar."
'I think that someone who impulsively takes matters into his own hands is frequently going to really suffer for it," Jake Gyllenhaal says. 'Keller is trapped by his animal instincts, following his gut, and it's leading him down a very bad path. Loki is just watching and waiting to see where it goes. Especially with regard to Alex Jones."
Alex Jones is a young man that the police initially suspect is behind the sudden disappearance of the two little girls. He is taken into custody and questioned, but ultimately released without being charged.
'Loki doesn't necessarily think that Alex Jones is the person who has done this, but there's something very questionable about him," JakeGyllenhaal conveys. 'There are other things that allow Loki's focus to go other places, but he never really discounts Jones entirely, either." On the other hand, Dover is absolutely convinced. The briefest whisper in his ear gives him all the evidence he needs, and if the police can't get answers out of him then"for the love and life of his daughter"Dover is ready to do anything to get Alex Jones to talk. Of course, the irony is, the more he pushes Alex, the less Alex tells him.
Paul Dano plays the enigma that is Alex Jones. Drawn to outside-the-box roles, Dano says, 'Alex is a complicated guy. He comes off as both a bad guy and a victim, so he's sort of mysterious, which, for an actor, provides a lot of options to explore."
Johnson agrees, 'Alex is a very difficult role to play because he projects both an element of danger, which is what Keller sees, and a kind of innocence to him. He's older on the outside, but inside his maturity and intellect are much younger, so it's hard to know just what he's capable of."
'In some ways, Alex simply wants to help, and in a moment of panic, says something to comfort Keller, something he thinks he wants to hear," Denis Villeneuve shares. 'But that just makes things worse, for Keller and for him. Alex has a disturbing relationship with reality, and that is part of what makes his journey so horrific."
Denis Villeneuve knew upon reading the script that he would offer the part to Dano. 'I said to myself, -I need Paul Dano.' Paul is one of my favorite actors, and I needed someone with a very strong presence, so that the audience would feel that presence even when they weren't seeing him on screen. Paul brought a beautiful childlike dimension"like a child that didn't grow up or is stuck in time"to the character."
Though their scenes together are among the movie's most harrowing, Dano and Hugh Jackman had a very collaborative relationship on set. 'Hugh is a really giving and gracious person," Dano remarks. 'We had some difficult scenes alone together and they were very intense and intimate, but I think we got where we needed to go."
While Dover's neighbor, Franklin Birch, is equally distressed by his own daughter's disappearance, he is not comfortable with the lengths to which Keller is willing to go to find the girls. It's eating at both of them emotionally, but Franklin responds in a more internalized way.
Terrence Howard, who plays Birch, says that when he first read the screenplay, 'I felt very emotional. It took me into the very crevasses of these completely human characters. We've all watched the news and wondered what we would do if someone hurt our family, hurt our children, in this way. Do I take the law into my own hands, or do I trust the authorities to work as hard as I would? Because, at the end of the day, they go home from work while my daughter is still gone. So, watching the film makes you ask yourself which character you would be? Whose actions you would mirror? Because they all resonate with the very nature of humanity."
Despite their close friendship, Birch, a music teacher, is a very different sort of man from Dover. When the girls first go missing, he is of the mind to let the police do their job. Later, he reluctantly goes along with Keller's harsh methods, but only up to a certain point, and this creates a wedge between them.
Howard says that Denis Villeneuve created a safe, trusting environment that allowed for the cast to safely ride the difficult emotional rollercoaster they were on. 'Even though the subject matter is so heavily laden, it was probably the most stress-free set I've ever been on. Knowing we had to convey some of the worst things a person could go through, we were free of insecurities thanks to Denis Villeneuve. We could all dive as deeply as we wanted to into our characters, knowing he was there to catch us."
'Franklin has a terrible moral struggle with Keller's actions regarding Alex Jones. Keller's detention of Alex, and Franklin's part in it, creates a war inside of him," Villeneuve says. 'In some ways, I think Franklin is the character that represents the audience's point of view, and Terrence did a terrific job conveying that."
Franklin's wife, Nancy Birch, is played by Viola Davis, who says that she and Howard enjoyed an easy partnership on set. 'I love Terrence," she says. 'He's the sweetest, kindest, most sensitive man. He has a wealth of emotions, which is very helpful with a story like this, and he's a great partner."
In turn, director Denis Villeneuve has nothing but praise for Davis herself. 'Viola was just wonderful. She was able to show her character's strength as a weakness, allowing Nancy to retreat from her own compassion, to look the other way. Not everyone could manage that with such great subtlety."
Putting herself in the viewer's place, Davis offers, 'All of our characters go down this road together but separately. There are times when the audience is going to want to shout at the screen, -Why don't you just sit and talk, share and bond and just release these feelings together instead of veering off and folding under the weight of all the grief?' But they just can't do it. It's just too much."
While Nancy's reaction is to hold vigil in her home, a quiet pillar of strength willing herself not to crumble, Grace Dover's is to withdraw completely, crawling into bed and anesthetizing herself to keep the pain of her loss at bay.
'Grace completely falls apart," says Maria Bello, who plays the wife and mother who becomes a mere shell of her former self. 'She takes medication to calm herself, because otherwise she'd be hysterical. And her husband is out dealing with things in his own way, so he's not home to comfort her."
Though she is aware Keller is out looking for Anna and Joy, Grace nonetheless can't help but blame him a little, too. Bello emphasises, 'He's prepared for the end of the world, so why can't he save our daughter? She begins to unravel, and so does their relationship to a certain extent. She's so angry with him and with the entire situation, that she just has to check out, or she'll die."
'Grace's reaction to the pain is to fade away, to disappear," Denis Villeneuve affirms. 'We needed an actress who, at the beginning of the film, could display a lot of life and happiness, and then slowly shut it down and become almost like a ghost. For a woman of her innate beauty, Maria allowed the character's anguish to come through"no makeup, just looking tired, more and more like a shadow"so you completely feel the pain Grace is trying so hard to escape from."
Adding his own praise, Hugh Jackman says of his on-screen wife, 'Maria, who is an incredibly strong, courageous woman herself, managed to flood her character with vulnerability, and to show that people under this kind of pressure can actually break."
Another woman who has gone through a similar tragedy"losing both her child and husband, and now possibly her nephew"is Holly Jones, Alex Jones's aunt. Holly's husband deserted her some years back without any warning, leaving her alone to raise Alex, now a suspect in the disappearance of Anna and Joy. And when, after he is released from custody, he also disappears, Holly suspects he, too, is the victim of foul play.
Melissa Leo is almost unrecognisable in the role of Holly. 'She's a very lonely woman, living with just her dog and her nephew, having lost her family, an irreparable ache in anyone's life," Leo attests. 'She doesn't want to engage with the world, or want the world to engage with her. I think she relied greatly on her husband, who's been gone for more than five years, she doesn't even know where. Now she's left with Alex, a fragile young man to begin with, but he's all she's got and she wants to protect him."
Dano adds, 'I think Alex and Holly have an interesting relationship. He's been with her for a long time, so he definitely is dependent on her as more of a mother than an aunt, really. But at the same time, he keeps to himself a lot, so he's not exactly good company for her."
Vital to the story of 'Prisoners" is an examination of the crisis from different points of view, how it affects the fathers, mothers and siblings of the missing girls, as well as those involved in the investigation and, to some degree, the community at large. That is why, as Villeneuve puts it, 'All of the characters have important moments, and the performances had to be completely authentic in order to achieve the level of realism we were looking for. We needed great actors for every part, and we found them."
Rounding out the cast are Dylan Minnette as Keller and Grace's teenaged son, Ralph, and Zoë Soul as Franklin and Nancy's teen daughter, Eliza; Erin Gerasimovich and Kyla-Drew Simmons as the missing girls, Anna Dover and Joy Birch; Wayne Duvall as Loki's boss, Captain Richard O'Malley; David Dastmalchian as Bob Taylor, an alternate suspect that Loki takes an interest in; and veteran actor Len Cariou as a local priest, Father Patrick Dunn.
Creating the Atmosphere of Fear
'Prisoners" is set Pennsylvania, but was shot entirely in and around Stone Mountain and other eastern suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia. The filmmakers settled on Stanton Woods, a neighborhood near Conyers, which became the fictional Conyers in the movie. Shooting was to commence in the month of January, which also pleased Villeneuve, who recalls, 'The forecast was for three months of Thanksgiving-like weather, meaning rain, cold, but not three feet of snow falling from the sky like you'd get up north. The locals said it was the worst winter they could remember, but for us, it was perfect."
To create the look and feel of a Northeastern town as winter approaches and a chilly pall literally and figuratively hangs over the streets, homes and residents, the director turned to production designer Patrice Vermette, costume designer Renée April, and venerable director of photography Roger Deakins.
'For me, this was a chance to fulfill one of my biggest dreams as a filmmaker: to work with a master cinematographer like Roger. He is one of my contemporary heroes," Denis Villeneuve declares.
The director had worked with both Vermette and April before. 'Patrice and Renée were on my first film, and they are both great artists. Renée is totally committed to helping the actors bring their characters to life, and Patrice is all about the details"behind each door, each curtain, everything conveys real life, and I think that's so important."
Vermette's early inspiration for 'Prisoners" came from photos, particularly some of photographer Gregory Crewdson's less surreal work. 'When I read a script, it's like reading a book for me. I see images in my mind. I then start collecting imagery from personal photos and sketches, books and the internet," he relates. 'I also enjoy going on the road and taking pictures of what I feel should be the right mood for the storytelling of the film. I make a virtual scrapbook of what I think the movie's mood should be for each set. The mood board grows and grows and it becomes the reference and guideline that you can always refer to in prep and production. I think it's a helpful tool for everyone."
He then presented his material to Denis Villeneuve, and they were on the same page. The two went to Atlanta, scouring the neighborhoods to find the kind of locales that could fit what they had in mind for a story that takes place in Pennsylvania.
While they scouted, Vermette recounts, 'We discussed the visual environments: colors, textures, reflective surfaces, everything that makes up the ambiance. We visited several homes and realised that people often had a lot of things from the `70s and `80s. Not antiques, but a real eclectic mix of textures that, for our purposes, I found to be more interesting than some of the contemporary things we see today."
Fortunately there were outdoor sites that worked equally well for the production, with architecture and foliage that resembled a typical northeastern neighborhood. 'Fairmount Circle could easily be in New York state or Pennsylvania," the designer continues. 'We all felt that it was important for the film that it feel like it could happen anywhere, to anybody. So, instead of needing the town to be a real suburb or small town, we planted the story in what we called the -exurb.' I think that's what North America is becoming: all these small villages that are united by highways and strip malls eventually become one. In fact, if you look at aerial pictures of a lot of these -exurbs,' it's like a maze, there are no reference points. Mazes also happen to be an important visual element of the film and one which we discreetly introduced in some of the sets." One of the sets Vermette references is the dilapidated, abandoned apartment complex where Dover takes Jones. The designer's team built the interior on a stage; its exterior was a location near Midtown Atlanta, which they built an extension onto and turned it into an abandoned apartment building. They also remodeled the interiors of the houses they filmed in for the Birches' and Dovers' homes"transformations welcomed by the real owners"effectively turning practical locations into stage sets with sliding walls. Different houses were used for their exteriors.
In keeping with the foreboding tone of the drama, Vermette went for muted hues rather than a bright color scheme. 'We stayed with soft blues and grays and greens for the Birches," Vermette says, 'and browns, ochers and burnt reds for the Dovers."
Similarly, costume designer Renée April sought to subdue her color palette. 'I took every piece of wardrobe and dipped it in light gray, just to take it down a bit. I favored grays, maroon, purples…just melancholy colors in general." She shopped for costumes at such stores as Sears, Wal-Mart and Target, and even Goodwill, places she felt the working-class characters would actually buy their clothes.
The only exception to the muted color palette was the focus of the entire story, the missing little girls. 'For Anna and Joy, Denis said he wanted -all pink,' and I agreed that that was exactly what they should wear," April relates.
'Their daughters are the bright lights in their parents' lives, so we wanted to reflect that in the colors they wear," Denis Villeneuve says.
Roger Deakins also utilized color, along with light and shadow, to amplify the atmosphere around the story. He says that most of the time he went for a monochromatic feel. 'There were a couple of scenes with color, but not a big variety, so it was quite austere. The look up table was amusing, slightly de-saturated, with a little added contrast so the images were a bit heightened."
Denis Villeneuve's goal was to be as realistic and authentic as possible throughout. 'I wanted people to feel the rain and the dust surrounding the pain of these characters." To that end, he and Deakins worked with as much natural, or practical, light as possible"and with as little as possible"employing slow camera movements to increase the tension.
'Roger created a claustrophobic element that was very suitable for the story," Villeneuve says. 'The darkness is so important in the film"the days are gloomy and overcast, and the nights, largely because of Roger's work, are very poetic."
One particularly tricky lighting challenge was a nighttime scene that takes place at the edge of the woods, when the cops first come across Alex Jones in his RV.
Deakins recalls, 'There was a gas station in the background, with mercury vapor lights. The police cars have blue flashing lights, and you don't want to overpower them, so you tend to work wide and open. I used an ARRI ALEXA, ASA at 1280 for low light, which is a lot more than I would get out of film. We were basically shooting the action with the high-powered flashlights in the hands of the actors so we could get a decent beam and a good, hot image out of them."
Broderick Johnson says, 'Watching Roger Deakins light and shoot a film was one of the highlights of my career. He uses natural light in ways that are not obvious, and even in a film like this one, with so much darkness, the choices he makes are always interesting. When you see him start to conceive a shot, there are always so many layers to it."
Deakins says, 'I come from a documentary background and I still love being hands on, being totally involved, operating the camera and moving the lights myself."
The cinematographer shot the film digitally, which he thoroughly enjoyed. 'I can sleep at night because I can see what I'm doing!" he jokes. 'I've really gotten to like digital because of the immediacy of it. The director can see what I'm doing; I can see what I'm doing. It's nice to be able to look at a calibrated monitor and see exactly what the image is you're going after and talk to the director about it. It's a big advantage."
Because of the number of practical lights he used on -Prisoners,' Deakins found shooting digitally even more to his benefit. 'A lot of the work is about the choice of the lights in the shot, such as using the practical lights that sit on a desk or illuminate a room rather than film lights to create the look. It's easier to do that digitally, I had more dynamic range to play with."
With principal photography complete, Denis Villeneuve was thrilled to work with experienced editors Joel Cox and Gary Roach. 'I knew from their past work that both Joel and Gary have very strong instincts about the human condition. The way they cut their movies is always deeply rooted in the exploration of the characters' journeys, which is precisely what I needed to tell this story."
Setting the Tone
To create the score for the emotional journey in 'Prisoners," Denis Villeneuve turned to Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson. His particular type of dissonant electronic music appealed to the director, who asked Jóhannsson to create something stark, rather than symphonic. The composer approached the score by combining an orchestra, with a large string and woodwind section, with two lesser-known instruments: the Ondes Martenot, which is an early type of synthesizer; and the Cristal Baschet, which produces sound with oscillating glass cylinders. The blend of sounds generated what Johannsson describes as 'music with a delicate, glassy surface, heightening the tension of the film.
'I wanted the score to be a voice that worked in counterpoint to the action on screen," he continues. 'Even though the movie is a very suspenseful thriller, the music is often lyrical." The director felt that the music enhanced the emotional resonance of the film throughout. 'Jóhann's work is beautiful and powerful, very graceful, classical but with its own identity," Denis Villeneuve states. 'He did a wonderful job composing something that would elevate the human spirit amidst the melancholy of the story, giving the audience comfort even as it evokes feelings of sadness and desperation."
As desperation causes the characters in the film to unravel"each in his or her own way"the filmmakers hope that 'Prisoners" will provoke moviegoers to question their own behavior when confronted with the unthinkable. The answers the film provides are not easy, but it is the cast and filmmakers' desire that they will elicit self-reflection and conversation. Jackman allows, 'There is rage inside of a man forced to protect his family. It is a rage you hope you'll never have to face, but once it arises, you have no idea how far you'll go to save your child. Would I go as far as Keller does? I don't know. That is the point, and the power, of this film."
For Denis Villeneuve, the movie examines how extraordinary events in life can come out of nowhere and tear the fabric of a family to shreds in an instant. 'It happens to people we love most in life, the sources of our heart and our safety," he says. 'I think that this story, told in a beautiful script and interpreted by the most skillful actors, comes from a very human point of view. I hope audiences will see a powerful, complex drama told in a very exciting, intriguing way, and that they will continue to think about it, and to talk about it, long after they leave the theater."
Release Date: October 17th, 2013