'Prisoners' captures rage and despair of a vulnerable America at Toronto film fest

By Mary Milliken

TORONTO (Reuters) - Forget for a minute the Hugh Jackman of Broadway musicals and "Les Miserables" and "X-Men" movies, and envision the Australian actor as a Pennsylvania survivalist and desperate father who takes justice into his own hands.

As a carpenter without enough work who stockpiles supplies and doesn't trust government, he is the seething vigilante who drives the dark thriller "Prisoners," one of the most talked-about films at the Toronto International Film Festival and the subject of early Oscar buzz.

Playing opposite Jake Gyllenhaal's small town detective, Jackman's Keller Dover embodies what French Canadian director Denis Villeneuve calls a "lack of confidence in the institutions."

While "Prisoners" is the story of every parent's worst nightmare - the disappearance of two small girls - it is also a depiction of a country in decline, with human connections unraveling and communities near collapse.

"It is a part of America that deeply touched me, the vulnerability of America," said Villeneuve. "We see a lot of movies about the strength and the power and beauty of America. As everything does, it has its own dark side too."

"Prisoners" is Villeneuve's first Hollywood studio film, from Warner Bros. , and his first in English after his "Incendies" was nominated for an Academy Award for best foreign language film.

After premiering last week at the Telluride Film Festival in Colorado, "Prisoners" garnered excellent reviews. Variety film critic Scott Foundas said it "immediately enters the ring as an awards-season heavyweight" and that Jackman and Gyllenhaal turned in career-best performances.

While the story of missing children could have been set in any place or time, Villeneuve said present day Pennsylvania and its soulless "exurbs" was the perfect setting, areas without strong community centers and linked together by highways.

"There is a violence in that kind of environment," Villeneuve said. "I felt it was more violent to lose children there than in a little, nice village. I thought it was a little more contemporary to depict America this way."

'PRISONERS TO ELEMENTAL FEARS'

Keller Dover fits perfectly into that violent environment.

It is a rainy Thanksgiving Day when Dover's 6-year-old daughter and her 7-year-old friend vanish while the two families celebrate. The only clue is an old RV that was parked near where the girls had been playing.

Gyllenhaal's Detective Loki arrests the RV's driver, an introvert named Alex (played by eerie Paul Dano) who lives with his aunt Holly (Oscar winner Melissa Leo). But he is forced to release Alex after finding no evidence linking him to the girls' disappearance and a rage-filled Dover decides to act on his own, kidnapping Alex in an attempt to make him confess.

"My character represents the idea of the institution and Hugh's character the individual, expressing oneself, regardless of any of the rules," said Gyllenhaal, whose Loki is confident but unable to control the case, or Dover.

"They need to co-exist and if they don't, chaos does ensue. It does in this movie in a lot of ways," added the 32-year-old American actor, perhaps best known for his Oscar-nominated role as a gay cowboy in "Brokeback Mountain."

Jackman's Dover, whose basement is stocked to the ceiling with a survivalist's supplies for the day of doom, takes the audience to a dark place with his vigilante justice over two and a half suspense-filled hours.

"We are prisoners to elemental fears that are unresolved and in primal, cataclysmic situations like a child going missing, it all comes out and everything is unleashed," Jackman said.

Jackman, nominated this year for a best actor Oscar for "Les Miserables," can't say if his Dover is a career-best performance but the 44-year-old does consider it some of his better work. And he credits Villeneuve for not only giving him the chance to do the kind of role he doesn't often get, but also pushing him as an actor.

Jackman points to one particularly tense scene where Dover threatens to take a hammer to Alex's skull. The director made him re-take the scene even though Jackman thought he had nailed it.

"I was exhausted, been going for a long time, and I was positive Denis was going to come up to me and say 'We got it, thanks, that was great,'" Jackman said.

"And he came up to me and put his arm around me and said 'I really need you to go there. Really go there.'"

(Editing by Doina Chiacu)

Matches

MORE TOP STORIES TODAY

Duminy steals first win for Delhi

Duminy steals first win for Delhi

Furious fifties by Duminy and Dinesh Karthik end a long losing streak for the Daredevils. More »

AB, Parthiv seal Bangalore's second win

AB, Parthiv seal Bangalore's second win

Royal Challengers overcame a stutter to cruise to the small target they were set by Mumbai Indians. More »

Glenn Maxwell carves his parallel universe

Glenn Maxwell carves his parallel universe

Glenn Maxwell seems to project an icy disdain when at the crease. Match situations rarely faze him and the bubble in which he plays excludes everyone … More »

Srinivasan can attend BCCI meeting

Srinivasan can attend BCCI meeting

His status as president of TNCA makes him eligible to attend the Working Committee meeting on Sunday. More »

No way back for Pietersen: ECB

No way back for Pietersen: ECB

Kevin Pietersen's hopes of reviving his international career appeared to end Saturday when ECB managing director Paul Downton said there was 'no way back'… More »

[REWIND] The world record that nearly wasn't

[REWIND] The world record that nearly wasn't

Twenty years ago this week, Brian Lara became Test cricket's highest scorer, but he almost didn't make it. More »

Moores gets second stint as England coach

Moores gets second stint as England coach

In a two-year spell from 2007 to 2009, the 51-year-old Moores led England in seven Test series. More »

Bangladesh senior players to see shrink

Bangladesh senior players to see shrink

Bangladesh's senior players will have three sessions with a psychological skill development coach later this month More »

BCCI is not anybody’s property — Dalmiya

BCCI is not anybody’s property — Dalmiya

Dalmiya feels that Srinivasan’s ‘power hungry’ attitude isn’t helping matters. More »

KP ridicules idea of day-night Tests

KP ridicules idea of day-night Tests

Kevin Pietersen has ridiculed the idea of day-night Test cricket, saying the game would be so different to proper Test cricket that we will need a whole… More »

Rajasthan edge low-scoring thriller

Rajasthan edge low-scoring thriller

The bowlers restricted Hyderabad to 133 for 6 before Rahane and Binny took Rajasthan over the line. More »

Tough for bowlers: Saeed Ajmal

Tough for bowlers: Saeed Ajmal

The 36-year-old believes the T20 format and rule changes in 50-over matches have made a real difference. More »

Maxwell blitz takes Punjab home

Maxwell blitz takes Punjab home

The Kings XI batsman blasted a 43-ball 95 to help his team pull off a massive chase against Chennai Super Kings. More »

BCCI members want independent probe

BCCI members want independent probe

The board members are realising after the Supreme Court's observations that something has to be done — IS Bindra More »

'BCCI lacks leaders to take on Srini'

'BCCI lacks leaders to take on Srini'

Two former BCCI presidents, Shashank Manohar and Jagmohan Dalmiya, have reacted strongly to the news of the BCCI calling an emergent meeting on Sunday… More »

Delhi look for first points against confident Kolkata

Delhi look for first points against confident Kolkata

Preview — The threat of Sunil Narine looms large again. More »

Bangalore vs Mumbai: A battle of the big-hitters

Bangalore vs Mumbai: A battle of the big-hitters

Preview — Given the firepower in both line-ups, Dubai crowd may see another high-scorer More »

Yuvraj tees off to Sharjah's delight

Yuvraj tees off to Sharjah's delight

Yuvraj Singh was hardly convincing to begin with against Delhi, but a big dose of crowd support and a helping of poor bowling meant he had the opportunity… More »

Stressed Trott stands down again

Stressed Trott stands down again

The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) on Friday confirmed that batsman Jonathan Trott is to take another break from all cricket with immediate eff… More »

PCB starts another coach hunt

PCB starts another coach hunt

The PCB has decided to not extend the contracts of head coach Moin Khan, fielding coach Shoaib Mohammad and batting consultant Zaheer Abbas, and has invited… More »

Fiery star Stokes bids to curb his temper

Fiery star Stokes bids to curb his temper

England all-rounder Ben Stokes admits he must keep his anger under control if he is to end his international exile. More »

Bangalore's arsenal blazes to victory

Bangalore's arsenal blazes to victory

Yuvraj Singh was back to his best in his first match for Royal Challengers Bangalore. More »

Pakistan cricketers face probe

Pakistan cricketers face probe

Pakistani cricket authorities have launched an investigation after a number of current international stars played in exhibition matches in the United States… More »

BCCI to meet before next court hearing

BCCI to meet before next court hearing

The BCCI will hold an emergent working committee meeting on April 20 to discuss the future course of action with regard to the Supreme Court hearing concerning… More »