French filmmaker Denis Villeneuve ("Incendies") relocates to recession-trampled Pennsylvania, a place that might seem wintry even inane other season, with the Hugh Jackman / Jake Gyllenhaal vehicle "Prisoners."
Jackman plays a taciturn, fiercely protective family man (and survivalist -- er, "prepper") named Keller Dover whose daughter goes missing one Thanksgiving, along with the daughter of family friends. Was that shabby RV, spotted in the neighborhood shortly beforehand, involved in the disappearances? If so, does the driver -- a mentally challenged man named Alex Jones (Paul Dano) know something about the girls' whereabouts?
As Detective Loki (Gyllenhaal) tracks down clues and sorts through suspects, Dover takes matters into his own hands and does some kidnapping of his own, spiriting Alex off to a grimy building where makeshift torture sessions ensue, with the grudging participation of the other missing girl's father (Terrence Howard) and mother (Viola Davis). These frantic parents cling to the notion that Alex can point the way to their missing children with the same resolve to which they cling to their faith; this is a deliberate, though not overplayed, parallel, and crosses dot the production design. But how much cruelty can faith, or a parent's desperation, justify? This edgy thriller works your nerves and your ethical convictions, but never escapes its formulaic structure.
The special features, like the movie itself, are nothing special, consisting of two short "behind the scenes" segments. In "Every Moment Matters," the cast and crew talk about the story and characters; in "Powerful Performances," a laudatory round robin unfolds, in which the actors all compliment one another on how amazing they are.
The hunk factor aside, this is a movie worth seeing if only for its cold, ragged atmospherics and its brooding examination of people so flattened by the uncertainties of the actual world that their solace, in large part, lies in the hope of a world beyond.
Blu-ray / DVD combo