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TELLURIDE, Colo. — Prisoners, Denis Villeneuve‘s 158-minute detective-thriller about the week-long search for a pair of suburban kids who go missing on Thanksgiving Day, screened publicly for the first time Friday night at the Werner Herzog Cinema. 12 Years a Slave was premiering at the same time, so I covered that and my THR colleague Tim Appelo covered Prisoners, which, he reported, played really well. Having caught up with Prisoners this morning at its second screening, I have to say that doesn’t surprise me: it’s a well-made and immensely gripping film, featuring outstanding performances from each member of its distinguished ensemble — Hugh Jackman, Maria Bello, Terrence Howard, Viola Davis, Jake Gyllenhaal, Paul Dano and Melissa Leo. Warner Bros. will release it on Sept. 20.
All that being said, I’m not sure that I see a clear path for Prisoners through the awards season. It reminds me a lot of another excellent whodunnit from Warners, Ben Affleck‘s Gone Baby Gone (2007), which had a similar underlying premise and also deserved awards recognition — but wound up with just a best supporting actress Oscar nom for Amy Ryan. Because of that film’s dark subject matter, the large number of its actors who shine in the film and the Academy’s longstanding genre biases, it mostly slipped through the cracks. Unfortunately, I think Prisoners might too.
That would be a shame, because several of the actors in Prisoners deserve to be remembered: Jackman, who plays the aggrieved and aggressive father of one of the missing kids; Gyllenhaal, who plays the prodigious gumshoe leading the police investigation (he was also great as a law enforcer in last year’s End of Watch); Dano, who plays the mentally-stunted prime suspect (he has made an art form of portraying creeps); and Leo, who is virtually unrecognizable as the old and frail caretaker of Dano’s character (and is consistently as good as any character actress out there).
Villeneuve, a French-speaking Canadian filmmaker, previously came to Telluride with his films Un 32 août sur terre in 1998 and Incendies in 2010. In their respective years, both of them were the official submission of Canada for consideration in the best foreign language film Oscar category, and Incendies nabbed a well-deserved nom. Prisoners is his first film for a Hollywood studio, but, like his earlier indies, it has his clear stamp on it: it is long, slow-burning, heartrending — and worth seeing.
Follow Scott on Twitter @ScottFeinberg for additional news and analysis.
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