'Prisoners' Stars, Director Not Shying Away From Dark, Violent Nature of Thriller

4:52 PM PST 09/20/2013 by Hilary Lewis
Jake Gyllenhaal and Hugh Jackman in "Prisoners"

Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal and Denis Villeneuve talk to THR about what audiences will get out of their thought-provoking film.

Warner Bros.' kidnapping film Prisoners features graphic violence and has a number of unsettling moments as it explores the story of a father, played by Hugh Jackman, who takes matters into his own hands to try to find out what happened to his abducted daughter and her friend.

But Jackman, co-star Jake Gyllenhaal and director Denis Villeneuve are committed to the dark thriller, with Jackman noting that the movie might not be for everyone.

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"You could say the same thing about roller coasters," Jackman told The Hollywood Reporter at a luncheon with the cast of the film in New York on Thursday. Much like the amusement park ride, Prisoners may not be something everyone enjoys or wants to take part in, Jackman explained, adding that it didn't bother him if some people were turned off by the film.

"A producer might feel differently," he noted with a smile. Indeed, there's been some debate about whether the film's harrowing subject matter will hurt its chances commercially.

Jackman's role also contains a great deal of violence, something that concerned him when he initially got involved with the project, leading him to wait until he knew who the director would be before signing on. He said he knew that Villeneuve would deal with the violence in an appropriate way and expand the film beyond it being a typical genre movie.

Villeneuve said that he tried to show as little violence as possible and be suggestive, so that when he did have to show it, he could illustrate its ugliness and impact on both the victims and the perpetrators.

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"When you approach violence, if you cannot suggest it and you have to show it, then I'm not trying to shy away, I'm trying to show the ugliness and the power and the impact of violence on the victims," he told THR. "I always try to choose the point of view of the victims or to show the impact of the violence on someone who is perpetrating it … it has an impact on their soul as well. I'm not trying to make a show out of it; I'm trying to show the impact."

Indeed, Villeneuve said he did research with Jackman into how the pressure felt by parents of abducted children affected their bodies.

He also said his visceral reaction to the script helped him approach the film.

"I was approaching from an intimate point of view and I was able to relate in a universal way," the director said. "I didn't have to do research to understand the pain and horror of such a thing."

He added: "I thought this was a very powerful story that was saying accurate things about our society and our relationship with violence and torture."

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As for how audiences will respond to the film, Villeneuve didn't want to dictate how they should react, even though he "had some specific intentions" when he was making the film.

"It's like reading poetry, you know, when you read a poem, the poet doesn't tell you what to think but he has an intention behind it," he explained.

Gyllenhaal, who co-stars as the detective searching for the abducted girls, did predict one element of the audience's physical reaction to the whodunit element of the film.

"This movie keeps you on the edge of your seat," he said. "I joke that you'll pay for your whole seat but you'll only need the edge."

But he also offered his own interpretation of what the movie is about beyond the gripping action that unfolds onscreen.

"As harrowing as the subject matter is, it is about so much more," he told THR. "What I feel is, it's a movie about control and about what people do when they feel out of control, and that the individual cannot work by themselves and the institution cannot work by itself, the two have to work simultaneously, together, and without that happening, there's total chaos. And you try to get as much control of a chaotic situation, but ultimately, you need to rely on the institutions around you."

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