Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) is a rugged outdoorsman and family man with deep roots in rural Pennsylvania. He and his wife, Grace (Maria Bello), are raising their kids, 6 year-old Anna (Erin Gerasimovich) and teenage Ralph (Dylan Minnette) in the tiny town of Dover, an idyllic oasis seemingly far removed from big city afflictions.
It is Thanksgiving morning, and the doting dad has decided his son is ready to shoot his first deer, a rite-of-passage he'd shared with his own father upon coming-of-age a generation earlier. And after a telling tableau dripping with Christian symbolism reflected in a recitation of the Lord's Prayer and a cross dangling from their pickup truck's rearview mirror, we find the two deep in the woods where the boy does, indeed, bag his first buck.
"Be ready," Keller ominously advises Ralph on the return trip, not because he has a premonition about any impending disaster, but due to the vague sense of paranoia he has cultivated over the years as an amateur survivalist. Still, a basement stocked with years' worth of provisions would prove to be of no use in the calamity about to unfold later that day.
First, the Dovers travel to the home of Nancy (Viola Davis) and Franklin Birch (Terrence Howard), neighbors with a couple of kids around the same age as theirs. However, after sharing a satisfying Thanksgiving dinner, youngsters Anna and Joy (Kyla Drew Simmons) vanish without a trace while playing outside unsupervised.
The only lead is a suspicious RV parked down the street which the police trace to Alex Jones (Paul Dano), the mentally-challenged village idiot ostensibly incapable of pulling off such an abduction. With no other clues to follow, the investigating officer (Jake Gyllenhaal) puts the case on a back burner, much to the chagrin of the missing girls' anguished parents.
Given that time is of the essence, it is no surprise when a very desperate Keller takes the law into his own hands, with his manic behavior cutting a sharp contrast to the relatively-measured approach of deliberately-paced Detective Loki. Will the frustrated father or the laid-back cop crack the case first? Or will they join forces and pool their resources? Will Anna and Joy be rescued alive, or found too late to save them? Or will the whodunit simply go unsolved?
That is the mystery at the heart of "Prisoners," a mesmerizing, multi-layered masterpiece brilliantly directed by Dennis Villeneuve. Screenwriter Aaron Guzikowski deserves equal credit for the film's intricately-plotted script which oh so slowly ratchets-up the tension in a compelling fashion guaranteed to keep you on the edge of your seat every step of the way.
A compelling character study of the emotional toll exacted by a kidnapping on the psyche of the victims' loved ones.
Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for pervasive profanity and disturbing violence
Running time: 153 minutes
Distributor: Warner Brothers