Crafted with the kind of care and urgency that can only come from being personally invested in a subject, writer/director Peter Mullan's scathing exposé The Magdalene Sisters goes above and beyond predictable movie-of-the-week requirements to offer up a harrowing, first-hand view of the kind of inhumanity and persecution that might, in other times and circumstances, warrant the attention of a group like Amnesty International. From its opening scene -- involving a young woman's rape at a family gathering, told without dialogue -- the film adopts an unflinching, distant-but-sympathetic tone that creates a genuine sense of outrage and suspense for the viewer, without ever pandering to easy sympathy. The young women in Mullan's film -- brilliantly embodied by Anne-Marie Duff, Dorothy Duffy, Nora-Jane Noone, and Eileen Walsh -- don't spend much time pondering their assignment to the Magdalene convent/asylum the way they would in Girl, Interrupted or any one of a number of inferior, American "wayward girl" films. Instead, theirs is a more tactical, resigned existence, one in which escape is elusive and bitter compromise is the only means for survival. Where other directors might play up the syrupy bonding between the girls, Mullan doesn't shy away from the in-fighting and the resentment among them, even as he shows the small ways in which they try to protect one another. If the director's representation of the convent's Catholic administration is a more than a little sadistic, it's very much in line with the acts of brutality and humiliation we see them commit, as well as with Mullan's unerring effort to give the audience his lead characters' point-of-view.