Adele Wong
by Adele Wong

I was at the premiere of 'Prisoners,' and I heard two thousand people scream at the same time. I turned to my wife and said, 'I love cinema!' It's the sharing of emotions together, and it's collective. It's one of the last communions we have - Denis Villeneuve

The problem with writing a piece about Denis Villeneuve is that he takes on so many different genres, with complex, often surreal tones, that it is difficult to introduce his unique style in one short sentence. He is one of the few directors who has been able to achieve success while walking a fine line between art and commercial filmmaking. Even for the most talented filmmakers, it is difficult to consistently gain critical acclaim with each successive project, but Villeneuve’s films continue to do that.

The one consistent thread, though, is that this Canadian filmmaker is a master at presenting the human condition with diverse subjects– be it crime, social commentary, or aliens. As an actor, this is probably the trait that stands out the most when watching his films: the ability to consistently coax amazingly convincing performances from actors, no matter how peculiar, surreal, or non-linear the rest of the film might be. 

Polytechnique massacre: Fourteen light beams representing the 14 victims shine from Mount Royal

This is probably due to his devotion to delivering a meaningful message that fascinates him enough to drive him to make a film about it. His third feature film, Polytechnique, tackled the painful, misogynistic shooting at a Montreal institution, and he spent a year researching the episode. His approach was respectful and the film was well received.

His 2016 film, Arrival, opens here in sunny Singapore today, and has already won Amy Adams a Golden Globes nomination for her role in this film about an alien invasion! Now, taking a fresh, non-cheesy approach to alien films would be no easy task were it not for the combined brilliance, and the director’s ability to provoke a thoughtful response through his characters. 

Perhaps the best way to explore the myriad creative techniques that Villeneuve is capable of is to catch some of his work, and here are a few of his films available on CATCHPLAY: 

Prisoners (2013)

Villeneuve’s American debut poses a challenge to everyone, especially parents, and leaves us with unsettling questions about vengeance and vigilantism. This crime thriller tackles the disappearance of two young girls, appealing to the human instinct to protect the helpless and the vulnerable. Hugh Jackman stars as the father of a missing six-year-old and Jake Gyllenhaal plays the detective who has no choice but to release the only suspect – a man with the mental capacity of a 10-year-old child. Gyllenhaal’s character jumps through hoops and uncovers plot twist after plot twist, while Jackman’s character runs off on his own tangent to find his child, with both converging at the end. 



Enemy (2014) 

Villeneuve reunites with Jake Gyllenhaal to explore not one, but two characters, in this psychological drama based loosely on fantasy writer Jose Saramago’s The Double. Adam sees his doppelgänger in a film and stalks the man, known initially as “Anthony”. The men meet, and their lives spiral into a strange revelation as they explore their frustrations, their identities and eventually commit adultery with each other’s unwitting partners.  People with arachnophobia, beware.



Sicario (2015)

I was excited to see Villeneuve using a strong female character, played by Emily Blunt, to take on a Mexican drug cartel in this crime thriller, and the film does not disappoint! As with all his previous films, Sicario’s opening scenes immediately draw you in, here portraying a drug raid that then throws FBI agent Emily Blunt deep into a secret, joint task force along with Benicio Del Toro. Their team finds the tunnel used to smuggle drugs from Mexico to the USA but Blunt is stopped from making arrests, instead finding herself in the midst of a complex, clandestine operation with hidden agendas by all involved. 

In spite of all the clever plot twists and engaging turns of events, it all whittles down to us being invested in the morality of these characters. Del Toro is using the entire operation for personal vengeance, forcing Blunt to grapple with her place in law enforcement, while taking on the seemingly never-ending existence of drug cartels and the destruction they leave behind. Villeneuve was initially pressured to change the lead (Blunt) to a male character, and I think the film is stronger with his decision to stick to his guns.