The critics hammered “The Captive,” a new crime drama from director Atom Egoyan, when it played at the Cannes Film Festival. Reaction at the French fest was swift and brutal for a film that features some good thriller elements but is sunk by plot holes, logic lapses and simultaneous under and over acting.
Set in Niagara Falls, Ontario the beginning of the movie is a slow burn, using a broken timeline to weave the stories of a young detective (Scott Speedman) transferring from homicide over to the Special Victims Unit run by Nicole (Rosario Dawson) with the mysterious disappearance of Cass (Alexia Fast) who was taken from the backseat of her father’s (Ryan Reynolds) truck as he picked up some food at a diner.
Held captive for eight years by a pedophile (Kevin Durand), the girl is locked in a hidden apartment where she plays piano and watches streaming video of her mother (Mireille Enos) at work as a hotel maid. When she isn’t on lockdown she’s used as online bait for a pedophile ring, a recruiter for other young girls. The police investigation is a dead end until a clue from an unlikely source breaks the case.
“The Captive” has an interesting enough premise, but in an effort to differentiate itself from a score of similarly themed police procedurals, it makes a few wrong turns. The choppy timeline works well enough, helping to build some drama, and the pedophile’s habit of planting mementos from Cass’s life—a hairbrush, a figure skating trophy—in the hotel rooms her mother Tina cleans, and then watching her reactions, is unspeakably cruel.
But, like so much of the movie, there is bad along with the good. Tormenting Tina is creepily effective but it is played strictly for dramatic effect, leaving a major logic hole in the story. Tina doesn’t call the police until she has enough mementos to open a junk shop even though it would have been the best and easiest way to catch the bad guys… unless you’re in a movie called “The Captive.” On “Law and Order” they would have nailed this creep in no time flat.
But this isn’t “Law and Order,” it’s an attempt at a more nuanced style of storytelling, but for us to care about the grace notes of the story we have to care about the characters. The premise is heartbreaking, no parent could be expected to hold up when their child is taken but the parents never become characters. They stop just short, instead acting out the broad strokes of grief. Reynolds is a loose cannon, prone to lashing out while Enos redefines listless, handing in a performance that borders on somnambulistic.
Then there is the Durand problem. A good thriller needs a good baddie but Durand’s performance, which I suppose is meant to be eerily otherworldly, comes across like an Ed Wood Jr. villain, all pursed lips and whispered dialogue. It’s strange and ineffective work that plays in stark contrast to Enos’s understated performance.
Unlike the best of Egoyan’s films “The Captive” doesn’t work on any level other than the surface. Sure, there are multiple stories—a 90’s style police procedural, the aftermath of the kidnapping, the parent’s devastation and the opera singing deviant and his ring of pedophiles—but none are developed past the superficial.