Steve McQueen's "12 Years A Slave" wasn't the only film to make a surprise debut at the 2013 Telluride Film Festival on Friday night. Warner Bros. snuck Denis Villeneuve's "Prisoners" into the Colorado town for its debut, days before the Canadian filmmaker is set to bring his first major studio movie to the Toronto International Film Festival.
"['Prisoners'] sustains an almost unbearable tension for two-and-a-half hours of screen time, satisfying as both a high-end genre exercise and a searing adult drama of the sort Hollywood almost never makes anymore," Variety critic Scott Foundas wrote in a rave review of the film, before adding that "Prisoners" is "fully deserving of mention in the same breath as 'Seven,' 'Mystic River' and 'In the Bedroom.'" (Both "Mystic River" and "In The Bedroom" were Best Picture nominees.)
Written by Aaron Guzikowski, "Prisoners" focuses on what happens to two families (Jackman and Maria Bello and Terrence Howard and Viola Davis) when their daughters are kidnapped on Thanksgiving day. Gyllenhaal plays the detective tasked with finding the young girls, with Paul Dano and Melissa Leo acting in supporting roles. Guzikowski's script, which was listed on the 2009 Black List of best unproduced screenplays, has long held interest among Hollywood's elite, with stars like Leonardo DiCaprio, Christian Bale and Mark Wahlberg all circling the film at one time or another. According to Deadline.com awards guru Pete Hammond, at least, the infatuation with "Prisoners" was warranted. He hailed the film as "an instant Oscar contender":
The applause was strong and early critical praise is over the moon. Pundits will have to add this Alcon production being released by Warner Bros on September 20th to the list of strong Oscar contenders this year. That is, if audiences and academy members can handle the intensity of this superbly directed and produced film that features career best performances, for sure, from Jake Gyllenhaal and Hugh Jackman (okay, I liked 'Les Miz' too a lot), plus a brilliant supporting cast including Melissa Leo going for another supporting win, Terence Howard, the great Viola Davis, Maria Bello and Paul Dano who goes through the ringer for his art.
Hammond, who also made comparisons to "Mystic River," wasn't alone in praise of Jackman: Both Foundas and HitFix In Contention editor Kris Tapley wrote that the "Wolverine" star gives a career-best performance in "Prisoners." Tapley, however, was less bullish on the feature's awards prospects than his colleagues, this despite being an admirer of the film:
Hammond is in love with Prisoners but calling it an "instant Oscar contender" is, due respect, a stretch.
— Kristopher Tapley (@kristapley) August 31, 2013
Beyond the performances, "Prisoners" has an exceptional list of below-the-line contributors, including editor Joel Cox (who won an Oscar for "Unforgiven" and edited "Mystic River") and acclaimed cinematographer Roger Deakins. "Deakins steals the show with some breathtakingly layered compositions, and the disquieting atmospheres he drapes around the picture," wrote Rodrigo Perez for Indiewire's The Playlist.
"Prisoners," which clocks in at over 150 minutes, is set for release nationwide on Sept. 20. The film will next screen at the Toronto International Film Festival.