Prisoners is a thriller about the infectiousness of sin. Its very first shot evokes the end of innocence: Pennsylvania woods under new-fallen snow, a young deer caught in a rifle’s crosshairs, a man’s voice murmuring the Lord’s Prayer (and dwelling a bit on “forgive us our trespasses”), the sound of the shot, the deer’s collapse, and a father congratulating his teenage son on his first kill.

Of course, it’s not a sin, or even illegal, to kill a deer in season, and the father wasn’t praying for forgiveness while instructing his son. That voice-over is a preview of anguish to come. In fact, Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) regards hunting as part of a survivalist’s curriculum. In his household, the most important thing is to “be ready” for whatever catastrophes await. And, like many of his ilk, Dover insists on meeting tragedy his way, which is not necessarily the law’s way. When catastrophe does strike—the kidnapping of his little daughter and the daughter of his best friend—this devout patriot and truly loving father and husband tries to recover the children with methods that must outrage any person’s sense of decency, including his own. In his fury and frustration he abducts the chief suspect (Paul Dano), a mentally retarded young man whom the police don...

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About the Author

Richard Alleva has been reviewing movies for Commonweal since 1990.