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Janna is a staff writer for The Hudsucker. Born and raised in a small Ontario town, she made her move to Toronto for university and immediately fell in love with the excitement and pace of the big city. She holds an Honors Bachelor of Fine Arts in Film Production from York University, specializing in editing and screenwriting. She currently works as an assistant editor for a television production company. Janna loves stories told in all mediums, especially film, and takes herself to the movies as much as she possibly can. She can generally be found taking a Zumba class, exploring some of Toronto’s lesser-known gems, or relaxing with her fluffy feline roommate.

Janna Does TIFF: Prisoners

When a film debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival only two weeks prior to being released in theatres, people asked me, “Why bother paying extra to see something now, when you can just see it for the price of a regular ticket later this month?” I told them that, for some films, I just get a feeling that it’s going to be worth it. And for Prisoners, I was right.

Prisoners tells the story of two little girls who go missing on Thanksgiving day, and the lengths their families go to find who took them and bring them home again. It features an all-star cast including Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis, Terrence Howard, Melissa Leo, and Paul Dano.

Credit Alcon Entertainment

Prisoners marks French Canadian director Denis Villeneuve’s first foray into Hollywood, English-language filmmaking – and this is quite an entrance. Known for his explosive foreign-language film Incendies, Villeneuve’s strengths lie in depicting real emotions surrounding morally grey situations. In the hands of a lesser director, Prisoners could have been cloying, implausible and yet another overdramatic thriller. But under Villeneuve’s direction, we see a kind of reality: the horrors and emotions that families with missing children experience every day. Despite the complicated plot, the film feels raw and real – something that wouldn’t have happened had just anyone been at the helm.

The film begins softly, with every element working towards building tension and preparing the viewer for the moment it’s discovered that the girls have gone missing. The sound is just eerie enough to set the viewer on edge, and the cinematography is stunning. With veteran cinematographer Roger Deakins behind the lens, shots linger to establish the film’s mood and allow it to settle within you, giving the viewer a chance to feel the tension gnawing at their gut before moving on to the next image. And once the girls disappear, the film is off, presenting suspects and dropping confusing clues as the characters struggle to bring their children home. Though the film may get a little bogged down by its twists, and though some things wind up a little predictable, everything comes together solidly. You aren’t left confused and wondering – you’re left wanting to return to the film again, to see how everything plays out now that you have the answers.

Credit Alcon Entertainment

There isn’t a weak link in the cast – all the  performances are solid, and it’s evident that everyone working on Prisoners took their jobs seriously and treated the subject matter with the care and compassion it deserves. Jackman and Gyllenhaal are standouts as a desperate father and a determined detective, each on their own journey to try and bring these little girls home. These aren’t archetypes or two-dimensional roles, and neither man plays them as such – both characters are fueled by desperation and the desire to succeed, the race against time throwing the cracks in their facades into sharp light. There’s raw emotion in both their characters, and it’s impossible not to empathize with both at different times in the film. Don’t be surprised if Jackman’s name shows up on the Academy Awards ballot list again this year – it would be well deserved.

The team of Paul Dano and Melissa Leo are also worth a mention. As the primary suspect and his distressed guardian, both actors keep the viewer on their toes – it’s impossible to decide how to feel about them until the final scenes of the film, and that’s a testament to both the writing and their acting. Paul Dano in particular is striking, bringing a compelling character to life despite the character’s internal nature and little dialogue. Villeneuve and his casting directors assembled a fine team for the film, and they’re thrilling to watch.

Make no mistake: Prisoners is a heavy, intense film. It has some violent scenes that are difficult to watch, and it isn’t the type of movie you throw on in the background while doing other things.  It’s an exciting and tense thriller – possibly one of the best thrillers I’ve seen in a long time. With a strong script, beautiful visuals and captivating performances, Prisoners is one to catch in theatres. For the past few years, Villeneuve has been considered one of Canada’s best working directors – and with Prisoners, it won’t be long until he’s considered one of Hollywood’s best, too.


Prisoners received very positive reviews at the Toronto International Film Festival and has just opened in theatres all across North America.  Check out the film’s trailer here.

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