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Film review: 'Prisoners' harrowing scenes will make you wince

Denis Villeneuve, 153mins. Starring: Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal

A feeling of dread leaks through this grim thriller about child abduction. The Québécois director Denis Villeneuve demonstrated a nerve for handling dark material in his Oscar-nominated Incendies (2010), but nothing quite prepares you for this.

In a grey, rain-lashed suburb of Pennsylvania two a pair of families are celebrating Thanksgiving when it becomes apparent that their two young daughters are missing; a frantic search ensues, and suspicion falls on a mentally enfeebled man (Paul Dano) whose RV was spotted in the area.

The investigating detective, Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal), hauls him in but has no evidence on which to hold him. The father of one of the girls, a huntsman named Dover (Hugh Jackman), fights despair by turning judge, jury and possible executioner; he kidnaps and tortures the RV man, with the tacit collusion of the other parents (Terrence Howard and Viola Davis).

These scenes are harrowing enough to make you wince, though one suspects that Jackman's self-righteous vigilante act would win high approval among American audiences.

The anguished mood recalls something of the kidnap thriller Mystic River, balanced against the procedural tensions of Zodiac, in which Gyllenhaal also starred. A denouement ripped hot from the headlines will stay with you long after.