Note: this review is featured on the Phoenix Film Festival’s website.
The Captive captures the raw, brutal essence of losing a child to kidnapping in its opening scenes. Director-writer Atom Egoyan’s chillingly shot, narratively wonky film tackles an ambitious story navigating the seedy world of child trafficking and sexual abuse. Ryan Reynolds and Rosario Dawson deliver two strong performances in the leads, delving deep into their characters’ insecurities and letting a world ravaged by the mistakes of men take hold of their everyday lives. I was admittedly hooked on the film’s premise and the potential as the film built toward its climax; it reminded me of great films from the past few years like Trust that tackled sexual predators and the uncompromising nature of technology and its hold on young girls. Yet The Captive falls into a horribly clichéd conclusion that closes out the story unsatisfactorily, leaving the viewer with a typical car chase and unrewarding closer that cleans up the story too neatly to be a successful critique on society.
Matthew (Ryan Reynolds) loves his little girl, Cass (Peyton Kennedy). After her ice skating practices every week, they stop at a local restaurant to pick up a pie to enjoy later that night. He’s happily married to Tina (Mireille Enos), a maid at a local hotel who seems content with her life while her husband works as a blue-collar shipper; their life feels complete with a daughter who hopes to have a successful path in her sport. Yet one snowy day (as they all seem to be in their desolate landscape), Matthew returns to his car to find his daughter missing. He was only inside for a few minutes, as he always was, and she never leaves. What happened? It fractures his marriage, with Tina blaming Matthew for not watching their daughter while two detectives are tasked with finding the missing girl. They are Jeffrey (Scott Speedman) and Nicole (Rosario Dawson), who mainly look into child molesters in hopes of catching up and uncovering rings. There’s a seedy underworld in this seemingly quaint town, with Mika (Kevin Durand) leading the front as the creepy, altogether horrifying predator.
Atom Egoyan’s film has remarkable subtlety and nuance in its set-up. There’s a cold, distanced touch to his filmmaking, with the gorgeous cinematography tremendously lending itself to atmosphere. The performances feel restrained and isolated, all confined in their closed indoor spaces as they avoid the blizzard-like conditions ravaging their town. The film intelligently jumps between past and present, having the audience guess where each part is taking place only for them to realize that a seven-year gap exists between key scenes. Yet the film’s complete collapse in the second half destroys any sense of momentum or tension that’s been built. Durand’s Mika falls into a stereotypical psychopath with absurd tendencies that we didn’t know existed before, while Enos’ Tina devolves into the familiar “crazily emotional wife.” The film loses authenticity, particularly in its rapid-fire, rushed conclusion that practically dismisses all previous drama in favor of supposedly exciting shoot-outs and chases. The Captive boasts some strong performances and an ambitious, intelligent premise, but its execution is unfulfilling and leaves the viewer with the same cold, icy touch of the film’s landscape.
Grade: ★★½ (out of 5)