Hugh Jackman's a Family Guy in Prisoners

"I'm a sports nut," explained Hugh Jackman, joyful that his son decided to join the school soccer team. The actor and song man was making his way around The Monkey Bar at a luncheon celebrating his new movie Prisoners on Thursday. He might just as well have been talking about the thriller's opening scene, when he, as Keller Dover, praises his fictive son for killing a deer. The falling animal may prefigure deaths to come, or provide the occasion for a proud parent before Keller loses it when the unthinkable happens. His daughter is taken and he, albeit a good man, holds the alleged abductor Alex (Paul Dano) prisoner, torturing him. His wife Grace, played by Maria Bello, loses it too, withdrawing into a drug induced fetal pose. Bello said the film's nightmare premise expressed the characters' "shadow side."

Jake Gyllenhaal plays the detective on the case, a tattooed loner with a twitching eye. Director Denis Villeneuve encouraged the actors to embellish their roles, and shot Gyllenhaal's detective Loki's response to questions in three modes, yes, no, maybe, waiting till editing to determine which answer to use. Loki remains mysterious: said Gyllenhaal, "I wanted audiences to think: even I could be the kidnapper." Melissa Leo as Alex's aunt said she might have been more animated or friendly in some scenes, but Villeneuve wanted her dour throughout. The costume designers thought the long frumpy brown sweater and mousy hair might be enough but Leo asked for a foam rubber bottom to ground her, to help her move slowly and lower her voice.

With this absorbing film, one of the season's best thus far, the Montreal based Denis Villeneuve demonstrates he has a keen eye for the ethos of regional Americans, and an acute sense of the terrifying nature of dark cellars and holes in moist soil, with no visual means of escape.

A version of this post also appears on Gossip Central.