Variety Screening Series Q&A: Jake Gyllenhaal and Denis Villeneuve On the Uphill Battle of Releasing ‘Prisoners’

Jake Gyllenhaal at the Variety Screening
Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

Prisoners” may be among the darkest fare to hit theaters this fall, but at the Variety Screening Series showing at the Arclight on Nov. 15, Jake Gyllenhaal and director Denis Villeneuve couldn’t keep the laughs at bay.

“You have to know that Jake and I made a promise that we’d make this a serious Q&A tonight,” said Villeneuve, who is a Quebec native, after Gyllenhaal answered the first of several questions in a French accent to razz his director. “But Jake is so silly.”

“What? I’m translating for him,” Gyllenhaal said to excuse his levity. Gyllenhaal was also sporting bandages on his left hand, the result of an injury he sustained on the set of the upcoming thriller “Nightcrawler.”

Maria Bello and scripter Aaron Guzikowski joined Gyllenhaal and Villeneuve for a discussion with Variety‘s Chief International Film Critic Peter Debruge after the film. And while Gyllenhaal and Villeneuve showed off their comedic chops, all four told the audience that they thought “Prisoners” was too dark to be made.

“This screenplay was talking about things that are sadly accurate about our society today, and I felt deeply inspired by what it was saying about cycles of violence,” Villeneuve said. “I strongly remember falling deeply in love. But I put it aside because I thought it was too dark. Then it was haunting me so I had to get on board.”

“I figured it was too dark to be made into a movie,” Guzikowski said. Bello agreed: “The studio decided to make this film, but  I read this script and I thought, ‘This is so brilliant, but it’s so dark. Who would make this film?’ We’re putting a traditional Hollywood thriller with this foreign independent sensibility, and with this breadth, this breadth that it takes to build the suspense … and I wasn’t sure about it from the beginning.”

Gyllenhaal attributed “Prisoners'” getting the green light in large part to Hugh Jackman.

“I’d just like to give credit to Mr. Jackman — I call him Mr. Jackman because it annoys him and I’m trying to get him mad — because this movie would not have been made without him,” he said. “In a world where someone in his position could be making a lot of different choices, he chose this movie. We all wouldn’t be here without him, and the movie wouldn’t be what it is without him.”

“I was across from him in some of the most extraordinary moments I’ve seen as an actor watching another actor work, and I’ve been blessed to work with amazing actors,” Gyllenhaal continued. “Beautiful, beautiful work he does. And this movie exists because he said, ‘I want to do it.’ And that’s amazing, particularly given the darkness that both [Villeneuve] and [Guzikowski] thought was so dark that they couldn’t get it made.”

And while both director and writer said they were thrilled to see that that dark material saw the (green) light, and in particular that the studio allowed them to maintain the film’s ambiguous ending, both quipped that they’re ready to get into the comedy game.
“How can we get out of that spiral of violence? That’s the question,” Villeneuve said. “That’s what art is often inspired by, and that sadly inspires me. But I wish that one day I will do a comedy. Do you have an idea for a comedy?”
“Yeah, I’m writing one in my head at this very moment,” Guizkowski said.

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  1. Joe Smart says:

    I thought Prisoners was ludicrously overrated and that the script relied way too heavily on on ridiculous coincidences and sloppy plotting. (Spoilers follow). Let’s see. How is it possible to drive around in a van with two young girls without them leaving behind any forensic evidence whatsoever? The police said the van was not cleaned so apparently they were playing in the back of the van with their gloves on and managed to shed no hair or fibers from their clothing and leave no bootprints behind. How did the red-herring character manage to get into the homes of the families of both girls to steal their clothing when there were no signs of break-in at either house? Does he have lock-picking skills that we were never shown because the filmmakers wanted us to think he was the kidnapper and had keys to the houses? Are we expected to believe that the families would leave the doors to their homes open after their children were kidnapped? Isn’t it a little convenient that the long dead body the police officer finds early in the film ties in directly with the current kidnapping? Isn’t it odd that the lead detective only found out that Hugh Jackman’s character owned a boarded up building by following him even though property records are public record and the police routinely access them as part of their investigations? After Paul Dano’s character disappeared and the police officer suspected Hugh Jackman why didn’t he ever request an official search of the boarded up building? You don’t need a search warrant if the owner of the building agrees and parents always need to be ruled out as suspects when children disappear so searching that building should have been part of the investigation of the kidnapping in the first place.

    Then there’s the confused message of the movie. Many critics have claimed that Prisoners is an anti-torture movie but I have no idea how anyone gets that reading from the film–even if it’s the one that was intended. Hugh Jackman was right about Paul Dano’s character all along–he knew exactly where the girls were. Paul Dano’s character could have stopped the torture at any time by simply saying where the girls were. Most crucially, Hugh Jackman’s daughter never would have survived without the kidnapping and torture. While Hugh Jackman didn’t get the location from Paul Dano the police officer (very conveniently again) went to his home to inform his “aunt” that her nephew had been found and was in the hospital. And he happened to arrive at the exact moment the old lady was murdering Hugh Jackman’s little girl. Without the torture the police officer would never have had a reason to go back since the woman and her nephew were somehow cleared as suspects even though both little girls were actually on the property.

    Nice police work.

    I think Prisoners is easily the most overrated movie I have seen so far this year. I don’t understand the rave reviews or the fact that so many people take this silly B-movie masquerading as high art so seriously.

    But that’s just my opinion.

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