| TORONTO, Sept 7
TORONTO, Sept 7 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
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
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
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
"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.'"