The Captive

Solemn and moody, Atom Egoyan's return to mistreated children and miscarried justice is intermittent in its effectiveness.
The Captive

After a four-year absence following 2009’s Chloe, Canadian writer/director Atom Egoyan returned to feature filmmaking with certain topics on his mind. The mistreatment of children, as preyed upon by opportunistic adults, and the miscarriage of justice, as filtered through easy preconceptions, have inspired not one but two feature contemplations. First, Devil’s Knot adapted the facts of the harrowing real-life Robin Hood Hills murder case and the legal circus that followed. With The Captive, the filmmaker delves into fictional territory in a kidnapping thriller, but traverses the same issues. 

In the snowy climes of Ontario, Matthew (Ryan Reynolds, R.I.P.D.) is a struggling landscaper, and Tina (Mireille Enos, If I Stay) is a hotel cleaner. They chat and check in via phone, but their marriage is hampered by something missing: their daughter, Cass (Peyton Kennedy, TV’s Odd Squad), who was kidnapped as a nine-year-old. Detectives in a squad specialising in crimes against youth, Nicole (Rosario Dawson, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For) and Jeffrey (Scott Speedman, The Vow), work the case with clear suspicions close to home. The creepily quiet Mika (Kevin Durand, Noah) watches on with a secret of his own, and with a grown Cass (Alexia Fast, Jack Reacher) involved eight years later.

Working from a screenplay co-written with David Fraser (Eight Days to Live), Egoyan doesn’t hide the unseemly details of the narrative, but nor does he lay everything out in an obvious fashion, either. Temporal trickery is once again his gimmick for sustaining suspense and maintaining momentum, flitting between timeframes spanning the catalyst for the drama, the current state of all the players, and several points in the middle. Sometimes such an approach is employed to mask the plainness of the story, which is the clear case here. Though interesting in its examination of the aftermath not only for the parents and police trying to piece the puzzle together, but for the victim forced into a different and disturbing kind of life, The Captive never does more than superficially unsettle the audience with its tragic tale.

Accordingly, thematic commonality is only the start of the similarities between the feature and Egoyan’s preceding effort. Indeed, such consistency in ideas is far from new in the filmmaker’s works, with musings on grief, the unfortunate plight of children, judgment and voyeurism rippling through his resume from Exotica to The Sweet Hereafter. What emanates most strongly in his two most recent offerings, other than awful dialogue that never rings with believability, is the heightening of mood over all other aspects – and not to either movie’s benefit. Here, endeavouring to remain obtuse and eerie appears the main aim, as constantly demonstrated in lingering and repeated shots, a labouring score, and an atmosphere burdened with seriousness. Successes aren’t lacking, as evidenced by the confidently handled disappearance scene, but they are intermittent at best. 

With such material, the cast has little chance to excel, whether newcomers to working with the director, or returning players. In fact, it is first-timers Reynolds and Dawson who make the most of their thinly drawn characters, emphatic and impassioned if never naturalistic. They each perfect the sense of dread aimed for by Egoyan in exploring such bleak circumstances, and nobly navigate the battle against the darkness in the increasingly far-fetched plot developments. In the performances as in the surrounding feature, solemnity may be the prevailing and purposeful outcome befitting the subject, but more subtlety and less silliness would have proven a welcome addition.

Rating: 2.5 stars out of 5

The Captive

Director: Atom Egoyan
Canada, 2014, 112 mins
Release date: December 4
Distributor: Icon

Rated: MA

Sarah Ward

Wednesday 3 December, 2014

About the author

Sarah Ward is a freelance film critic, arts and culture writer, and film festival organiser. She is the Australia-based critic for Screen International, a film reviewer and writer for ArtsHub, the weekend editor and a senior writer for Concrete Playground, a writer for the Goethe-Institut Australien’s Kino in Oz, and a contributor to SBS, SBS Movies and Flicks Australia. Her work has been published by the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, Junkee, FilmInk, Birth.Movies.Death, Lumina, Senses of Cinema, Broadsheet, Televised Revolution, Metro Magazine, Screen Education and the World Film Locations book series. She is also the editor of Trespass Magazine, a film and TV critic for ABC radio Brisbane, Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast, and has worked with the Brisbane International Film Festival, Queensland Film Festival, Sydney Underground Film Festival and Melbourne International Film Festival. Follow her on Twitter: @swardplay