About the Production
It's a cold, cloudy Thanksgiving Day in a modest Pennsylvania suburb, the kind of town
where kids ride their bikes and play in the streets every day. Inside a warm and welcoming
home, the hardworking Dovers and Birches, the closest of friends and neighbors, share the
traditional holiday meal together, relaxed, laughing, entirely at ease. All is right with the world.
And then it's not.
In the blink of an eye, the two youngest girls, just six and seven years old, are nowhere to
be found. It is perhaps the worst thing that any parent, any family, can imagine, and for the
Dovers and Birches it begins a traumatic nightmare from which they cannot seem to escape.
Director Denis Villeneuve states, "'Prisoners' deals with one of the most difficult
subjects in life -- missing children. The mere thought of it makes us uncomfortable, we are
instantly overcome with fear. Having to think, 'What would I do if this happened to me?' is
truly unthinkable. You ask yourself how far you would go to find your child before time runs
out and it's too late. Or what you would do to the person you knew in your heart was
responsible, if given the chance. And what if you didn't take that chance, and it would've made
a difference? Fear drives these thoughts and influences the answers. Even from the safety of a
seat in a movie theater, the complex moral conflicts that can arise from our reaction to that
singular emotion are fascinating. For me, as a filmmaker, to examine it and to look at our
humanity through these richly drawn characters was so compelling that I was willing to face my
In the film, the police are called in and the girls' safe return becomes a race against the
clock; everyone knows that the longer it takes to find them, the less likely it is they'll be found
safe. When a suspect is apprehended by the police rather quickly, but released due to a lack of
evidence, one father cannot bear their perceived blunder, or their calm and meaningless assurances. Feeling he has no choice, he will do whatever it takes to find the girls, no matter the
Hugh Jackman, who plays Keller Dover, father of missing Anna Dover, says, "It is a
classic ticking clock type of suspense thriller that keeps you on the edge of your seat, and really
beautifully written, with great twists and turns. But it's also truly heartbreaking in its
consideration of what happens to the human spirit, the psyche, the soul, under that kind of
The story dives into the depths of the situation as it affects both families, as well as the
community in which they live, and the policeman fighting time to solve the case before it's too
Jake Gyllenhaal, who portrays the lead detective on the case, appreciated the way the
script examined the matter from both inside and outside of the families involved. "It posed some
really hard questions about how far you would go for the people that you love, while also taking
a close-up look at the various interpersonal relationships in a small town when something like
this happens, including the perspective of a cop, who is seen by some as part of the solution, and
by others as part of the problem."
Producer Kira Davis, recalling her first reading of the script, notes, "Even though, as a
parent, it was so painful to even imagine going through something like this, I was taken by the
intensity of the material, how much of a page-turner it was, and that I couldn't guess what was
going to happen next. I liked that the story was told from the point of view of various characters,
and that you see each of them having a very different emotional journey."
"Prisoners" was written by Aaron Guzikowski, who says his initial inspiration was
something much less foreboding than it eventually became. "What first came to me was just a
feeling, the one you get when you misplace something as trivial as your car keys or cellphone,"
he remembers. "That slight panic you feel when you reach for something where you knew it
was, and it's not there anymore."
But that was before Guzikowski had children. "Once I had kids, and tried to imagine that
same sensation -- but instead it's my child -- it became something completely different. What
does that do to a person's mind? How does it change him, what does it drive him to do that he
would never normally do?"
Helping to guide Guzikowski through the scripting process was producer Adam
Kolbrenner. "Aaron never wavered in his commitment to the story and these incredible
characters, from start to finish," he says. "What was most important to him was how they each
deal with this tragedy in their own way, and that it all start with something so innocent: the
decision by the parents to let their little girls go outside. It's such a common occurrence, a
choice that moms and dads make every single day."
Producer Broderick Johnson offers, "Aaron's screenplay gripped you from the beginning.
You met these lovely characters who suddenly had this unthinkable situation to deal with, and as
it went along, the tension mounted and it became this dark, heart-pounding thriller that was both
frightening and thought-provoking at the same time."
Acknowledging that the project poses hard questions with even harder answers, Johnson
notes that the key for Alcon and the other producers was finding a director who could not only
embrace such a difficult subject, but also bring it to the screen in such a way that the raw,
underlying emotions were exposed for the audience to experience along with the characters on
screen. "If you look at Denis' work, one of the common threads you'll find is the absolute
humanity, the grounded nature of the emotional conflicts. We knew the story would be in the
best of hands with him."
Villeneuve states, "Right away, I was impressed with the way Aaron depicted what a
parent will be ready to do to protect his or her child in such extraordinary circumstances, but also
the way this violation of a family spread inside them and among them, destroying a part of their
intimacy, and what each of them had to do to survive that. I was deeply moved."
"Denis came in and said, 'I understand who these characters are, I understand what their
journey is. I know how to relate to them and how I want to express that cinematically,'"
Kolbrenner says. "And that's exactly what he did. In a film that goes to the darkest places, the
characters were in the hands of a filmmaker who brought passion and creativity to them every
"From the start, I felt I could approach the story in different ways," Villeneuve relates.
"It is dark, it is a tough subject, but it's also very profound, and I knew it would be interesting for
audiences if the characters could feel alive to them, if they could truly connect with them."
Guzikowski's story and Villeneuve's approach to it attracted a top-flight roster of actors,
including Jackman and Gyllenhaal, along with Viola Davis, Maria Bello, Terrence Howard, Melissa Leo and Paul Dano. And behind the camera, helping Villeneuve to capture the story was
legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins.
"Beginning with Denis and Roger, and then our phenomenal cast, it really has been an
embarrassment of riches on this movie, from top to bottom," Davis acknowledges.
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