‘Prisoners’ captures attention of Oscar voters at Telluride

Three years ago, French Canadian director Denis Villeneuve came to Telluride with “Incendies.” That compelling mystery ended up contending for Best Foreign Language film. While he lost the Oscar to the Danish entry, “In a Better World,” Villeneuve got a pretty good consolation prize: the chance to make a major studio movie.

That Warner Bros. release — “Prisoners” — screened at Telluride Friday in advance of its official debut at the Toronto filmfest next week. This sneak peek proved to be a smart move as the first reviews are raves, vaulting this thriller into the top tier of Oscar contenders. 

The intense drama stars Oscar nominees Hugh Jackman as Terrence Howard as fathers divided over the lengths they will go to find their missing daughters. Their wives — played by Maria Bello and Oscar nominee Viola Davis respectively — are torn as to what is required, especially after the police detective (Oscar nominee Jake Gyllenhaal) is stonewalled by the prime suspect (Paul Dano) and his overly protective aunt (Oscar champ Melissa Leo). 

On paper, this might seem like just a popcorn picture as Jackman’s character turns violent vigilante. But, the initial reviews make clear that the film is much more than that. They laud the deft helming, the twists and turns of Aaron Guzikowski‘s original script and the atmospheric lensing by 10-time Oscar nominee Roger Deakins.

Among the cast, which receives praise across the board, Jackman and Gyllenhaal are singled out for their lead and supporting performances. While other committments kept them from attending Telluride, they will be making the rounds in Toronto and beyond, especially if further notices are like those below. 

Stephen Farber, The Hollywood Reporter: Viewers who see the movie will find it absolutely riveting, and this is a tribute to the filmmaker’s skill and to the excellent cast that brings the story to life … Jackman illuminates the character’s conflicted nature without ever begging for sympathy. Gyllenhaal is also playing a troubled character, a suspicious loner who nonetheless has a strong desire to help people in need, and he wins our sympathy for this dogged detective without in any way idealizing the character. Howard and Davis are excellent, as always, though one flaw of the film is that they have too little to do in the second half of the story.

Scott Foundas, Variety: The wages of sin, guilt, vengeance and redemption weigh heavy on the characters of “Prisoners,” a spellbinding, sensationally effective thriller with a complex moral center that marks a grand-slam English-lingo debut for the gifted Quebecois director Denis Villeneuve. Powered by an unusually rich, twisty script by Aaron Guzikowski (“Contraband”) and career-best performances from Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal.

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