Denis Villeneuve's unsettling psychological crime thriller “Prisoners” provides a contrast between the disturbing subject matter (child abduction, suicide, torture) and Roger Deakins' restrained camerawork, reminiscent of the Brit d.p.'s cooly matter-of-fact lensing in another police procedural, “Fargo.”
“Denis and I talked a lot in prep about the best style to use, and while we considered going with a very aggressive, docu-drama, handheld approach,” says Deakins. “We both ultimately decided that the film might be over the top and melodramatic like that. I love character studies and photographing faces, and it seemed best just to observe these people and the gradual decline of Hugh Jackman's desperate father.”
Shot over 55 days in and around Atlanta, the film used all practical locations, “apart from one set we built, of the apartment interior,” reports Deakins, who used the Arri Alexa — “great for all the low-light and night shoots we had to do.”
Using real locations gave the filmmakers the naturalism they wanted, but achieving the film's bleak, sunless look while shooting in Atlanta (doubling for suburban Pennsylvania) proved difficult.
“We structured the shoot around the forecast, and even got rainy days when we needed them,” recalls Deakins.
Ironically, the d.p., nominated last year for the Bond blockbuster “Skyfall,” found “Prisoners” “harder to shoot in a sense. You don't have the huge budget and lots of toys to play with, but that also makes you more creative.”