Telluride: World's First Screening of 'Prisoners' Leaves Audience Stunned

Denis Villeneuve's character-intensive thriller sneak previews at the fest to overwhelming effect.

Telluride, Colo. -- Prisoners, starring Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal, screened as a sneak preview Friday at the Telluride Film Festival, and director Denis Villeneuve told the audience, "This movie was finished last Friday, and it means you are the first audience ever to see this movie. For political reasons I don't understand, this is a sneak preview, but deep in my heart this is the premiere tonight."

The thriller, which breaks the rules of genre by focusing on character and the degrading effects of violence on people's souls, played well. Even viewers who could not stand its violence agreed afterwards that it was a stunning, overpowering film. Jackman plays a father whose daughter's kidnapping, apparently by a psycho (Paul Dano), turns him into a vigilante, while cop Gyllenhaal races to find the killer and keep Jackman's character from stepping over the line of criminality. The audience was clearly deeply affected by their intense performances in the unconventional, mazelike intellectual whodunnit, and also by the topflight cast: Maria Bello as Jackman's traumatized wife, Terrence Howard and Viola Davis as their friends whose daughter was also abducted, and Melissa Leo as Dano's mother.


At a Q&A with Villeneuve and producers Kira Davis, Andrew Kosove, Broderick Johnson, and Adam Kolbrenner moderated by Leonard Maltin, Villeneuve said Jackman was hesitant to accept the violence of the role. "He asked, 'How will you do it?' I said, 'I have no idea. We'll do it together.' Sometimes you have to say the truth. Honestly, I think I brought vulnerability, fragility, a lot of sadness, too. Because the tension was in the script."

Davis said they chose Villeneuve because of "the tenderness that he could show in a scene that was so dark" in his previous film Incendies. Kosove said, "We didn't want to make a genre picture, we wanted to make a character piece."

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After the screening, Kosove told The Hollywood Reporter, "At Alcon, we're known for making The Blind Side and movies about the better angels of humanity, but I think sometimes you have to explore other issues. Denis explores a dark side of humanity. It's tricky, because I think the way Hollywood deals with violence is deplorable, cartoonish, garish and ignorant. It plays a role in feeding a society that's far too violent. So we could only deal with violence in a way that shows its true horror and banality."

One horrified viewer protested, "Are there any comedies at this festival?" But Kosove said, "When people recoil from it, I'm glad, because violence is a horrible thing. If art depicted it more realistically, I think there might be less of it. The point of the movie is that violence is a cancer. You care very much about the characters, because you see how this horror envelops their hearts and turns them into monsters."

The film moves next to the Toronto Film Festival, and will be released by Warners on Sept. 20.