First Hit:  Intense, beautifully shot, and engaged acting.

The opening scenes show a darkened winter climate, truck in the driveway, one family walking over to another family’s home for holiday cheer.

The Dover family’s patriarch Keller (Hugh Jackman) is somewhat of a survivalist, intense, appearing to have a quick angry trigger. However it is apparent he loves his family – deeply.

The Birch family’s patriarch Franklin (Terrence Howard) is mellow and somewhat thoughtful. Their wives are different as well. Grace Dover (Maria Bello) seems to be on the edge of falling apart while Nancy Birch (Viola Davis) appears to have more of hardened and strong background. Their daughters all of a sudden go missing.

Police Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) is assigned to the case and he’s got a 100% crime solving record. He is methodical and follows his own path despite questioned interference from his boss Captain O’Mally (Wayne Duvall). The initial suspect Alex Jones (Paul Dano) is a grownup with a 6 year olds understanding of things. Loki doesn’t think Alex knows, or can articulate, enough about the missing girls to be really helpful. Keller thinks differently and imprisons Alex so that he can torture him to give up information about the missing daughters.

This film is hard to watch at times because the torture scenes are graphically displayed. The ending wasn’t suspected, but the pieces do come together and while walking out, I felt I’d been through a wringer.

Jackman was intensely focused and fully engaged his role. Howard was great as a man who was being led to do things he felt wrong. Bello showed a perfect weakness in her character, which isn’t her normal role. Davis was solid and showed a subtle rage against Dano’s character which was perfect. Gyllenhaal was sublime as the intense loner detective who prides himself on getting the answer right. Dano was beyond amazing. He embodied the character all the way and his eyes told the whole story. Melissa Leo was fantastic as Jones’ aunt and matriarch of a sick family life. Aaron Guzikowski wrote a powerful interesting script. Denis Villeneuve did an outstanding job of directing this deep dark script with both light and dark muted scenes.

Overall:  This was a very good and disturbing film.