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John Mulderig
Source: Catholic News Service

Hugh Jackman and Paul Dano star in a scene from the movie "Prisoners."
Any film that begins with a character earnestly reciting the Our Father is well calculated to grab the attention of Christian viewers. And, in the case of the powerful drama "Prisoners" (Warner Bros.), such concentration on the part of believers will be, in some respects at least, well rewarded by what follows.

Yet, for all its thematic and symbolic richness, this foray into psychological darkness is too bleak to pass for casual fare. Weighty but wrenching, it can only be endorsed for older moviegoers of considerable fortitude.

The voice delivering the Lord's Prayer belongs to devout family man Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman). A working stiff in a hardscrabble Pennsylvania suburb, Keller is a seemingly decent man who operates by traditional values.

His commitment to such ethics is put to the test, however, by a horrifying scenario: On a rainy Thanksgiving Day, Keller's 6-year-old daughter Anna disappears, together with one of her playmates. It soon becomes apparent that the girls have been kidnapped, and suspicion focuses on mentally challenged local loner Alex Jones (Paul Dano).

Though the lead investigator on the case, Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal), takes Jones in for questioning, the evidence against him is insufficient to press charges. Outraged by Jones' release, and desperate to locate Anna, Keller turns vicious vigilante. He abducts Jones at gunpoint and holds him prisoner while trying to beat information out of him.

Loki, meanwhile, doggedly pursues other angles, eventually uncovering a hidden web of satanically evil events and relationships.

Though it presents the facade of a thriller, director Denis Villeneuve's film is primarily an exploration of the human condition, including the chain reaction by which sin begets sin, as well as of the role of religious faith in a fallen world.

Keller is never identified with a particular denomination, and the question of his specific beliefs is muddled by the fact that his devotions include both Catholic and Protestant prayers. But he is a test case for faith under fire and an illustration of the dangers involved in any attempt to make the ends justify the means.

Screenwriter Aaron Guzikowski's script is unflinching in its portrayal of the increasingly brutal measures to which Keller is driven. Add to that such seamy details as an incidental priest figure who is both a sex offender and an alcoholic, and it becomes clear that "Prisoners" requires of its audience not only a capacity for grim material but mature interpretive skills as well.

The film contains harrowing violence, including beatings, torture and a gory suicide, mature themes, a negative treatment of Catholic clergy, at least one use of profanity and constant rough and crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is L—limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R—restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

John Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

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Andrew Dung-Lac and Companions: Andrew Dung-Lac was one of 117 people martyred in Vietnam between 1820 and 1862. Members of this group were beatified on four different occasions between 1900 and 1951. All were canonized by St. John Paul II. 
<p>Christianity came to Vietnam (then three separate kingdoms) through the Portuguese. Jesuits opened the first permanent mission at Da Nang in 1615. They ministered to Japanese Catholics who had been driven from Japan. </p><p>The king of one of the kingdoms banned all foreign missionaries and tried to make all Vietnamese deny their faith by trampling on a crucifix. Like the priest-holes in Ireland during English persecution, many hiding places were offered in homes of the faithful. </p><p>Severe persecutions were again launched three times in the 19th century. During the six decades after 1820, between 100,000 and 300,000 Catholics were killed or subjected to great hardship. Foreign missionaries martyred in the first wave included priests of the Paris Mission Society, and Spanish Dominican priests and tertiaries. </p><p>Persecution broke out again in 1847 when the emperor suspected foreign missionaries and Vietnamese Christians of sympathizing with a rebellion led by of one of his sons. </p><p>The last of the martyrs were 17 laypersons, one of them a 9-year-old, executed in 1862. That year a treaty with France guaranteed religious freedom to Catholics, but it did not stop all persecution. </p><p>By 1954 there were over a million and a half Catholics—about seven percent of the population—in the north. Buddhists represented about 60 percent. Persistent persecution forced some 670,000 Catholics to abandon lands, homes and possessions and flee to the south. In 1964, there were still 833,000 Catholics in the north, but many were in prison. In the south, Catholics were enjoying the first decade of religious freedom in centuries, their numbers swelled by refugees. </p><p>During the Vietnamese war, Catholics again suffered in the north, and again moved to the south in great numbers. Now the whole country is under Communist rule.</p> American Catholic Blog I discovered that my sins had created a spiritual racket that drowned out the gentle whispers of God to my soul; God had never actually abandoned me, but I needed repentance and sacramental grace to reawaken all that was good and beautiful in me.

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