He’s one of the most talented directors currently working in film, so I think it’s time to celebrate the amazing DENIS VILLENEUVE.
Incendies. Prisoners. Enemy. Sicario. Arrival. It’s a hugely impressive list of exhilarating, dynamic movies and the common factor in them all is their director, the amazing DENIS VILLENEUVE.
Born in Quebec, Villeneuve came to a lot of people’s attention with his Oscar-nominated family drama Incendies in 2010. Based on an acclaimed play by Wajdi Mouawad, it told the story of twins Jeanne and Simon (Melissa Desormeaux-Poulin and Maxim Gaudette) discovering painful things about their lives and past on their mother’s death.
With the action moving skilfully from Canada to the Middle East as the siblings’ journey to uncover long-hidden secrets, it received critical acclaim and signalled the arrival of a gifted film-maker. It’s also at the time of writing, the only film of his canon that I haven’t yet seen and as I have become so enamoured of his talent, particularly with his two most recent movies, I really must catch it very, very soon.
Villeneuve first came to my notice with his second movie, the 2013 thriller Prisoners. Directing an ‘A list’ cast including Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal, it examined the sudden abduction of two young children with the father of one of them – Jackman’s Keller Dover – going to extreme lengths to find them. Clashing with the detective assigned to the case, the somewhat oddly named Loki (played brilliantly as ever by the phenomenal Gyllenhaal), we watched an increasingly unhinged Jackman take the law into his own hands and make you wonder what you’d do if you were in his shoes.
Talk about a white-knuckle ride, this film certainly makes you sit on the edge of your seat, questioning your moral code while you sit there but I can’t say I was on Jackman’s side. His cruel, violent persecution of Paul Dano’s prime suspect doesn’t make it an easy watch. It is a movie I should re-visit though as it’s full of great performances – Maria Bello, Viola Davis and Melissa Leo, as well as the always superb Dano. But as an introduction to its director, Prisoners definitely made me sit up to attention.
He collaborated again with Jake Gyllenhaal that same year for the much more intimate mystery thriller Enemy. The film was actually the first one shot but Prisoners was released before it. Perhaps the very dark, almost claustrophobic drama of a young professor Adam, who notices that an actor called Anthony in a movie he’s rented is seemingly his exact double who he then becomes obsessed with finding, was not as easy a sell as the kidnap-revenge drama.
It’s very much worth a watch though for the wonderfully surreal imagery Villeneuve employs in the telling of the story (a huge spider dominates the screen at one point), Melanie Laurent and Sarah Gadon’s terrific performances as the women in Adam and Anthony’s lives and Gyllenhaal’s committed, enigmatic portrayals.
But it was in 2015 where Villeneuve really blew me away with his talent. The crime drama Sicario gripped me from the first frame to the last and ended up being my standout movie of that year. Watching Emily Blunt (in a career-best performance) as a somewhat fledgling FBI agent – think a certain Clarice Starling with the same amount of grit – navigate her way between Josh Brolin’s shady CIA operative and Benicio Del Toro’s driven assassin-for-hire was completely thrilling.
From the pulsating soundtrack from Villeneuve’s new go-to guy for music Johann Johannsson to the masterful Roger Deakins’ cinematography, here we saw an artist in effortless control of every aspect of the film-making process and the result was glorious.
Now with his latest film, the sensational sci-fi drama Arrival, the scope of the story is truly epic and Villeneuve shows us how accomplished he is handling a movie of such size. We’re talking Gravity and Interstellar here. Balancing the very human story of Amy Adams’ linguistic professor at its core alongside the appearance of aliens on earth is no mean feat. But Villeneuve and his cinematographer Bradford Young delivered scene after scene of beautifully framed images – from the long shots of the egg-shaped spaceships hovering just above the ground, to the extreme close-ups of Adams’ face – which made it one of the emotional and best-shot movies of 2016.
This bodes incredibly well as he’s helming possibly one of the most eagerly awaited movies (and sequels) of 2017 – along with Star Wars: Episode VIII! – Blade Runner 2049. Based on the first teaser trailer that I showcased in my post, it looks stupendously good.
So get 6th October in your diary now and get yourself watching all of DENIS VILLENEUVE’s movies if you haven’t seen them – he’s an incroyable film-maker.