Take a step back after you see The Captive — if you do, indeed, choose to watch it — and try to piece it all together. I’m not sure it’s possible. Whether through the editing process — during which scenes have been chronologically scrambled and some points have been cut altogether (or were never filmed) — or before the film was even being shot, there’s a definite lack of cohesion to Atom Egoyan’s newest film. In the moment it almost works, but looking at it afterward makes you ponder just what everyone was thinking.
The subject at hand is a serious one. The Captive is about abducted children — or, more specifically, a single abducted child — and the way that the parents of the child react to the situation, even eight years after the abduction. The child is Cass (Alexia Fast), a figure skater who just wanted macaroni on her pie. Her father, Matthew (Ryan Reynolds), goes into the store to buy the pie (the macaroni is leftover) and when he returns to his truck his daughter is gone. A frantic but unsuccessful search is the first truly dramatic moment in the film.
He heads to the police, represented by detectives named Nicole (Rosario Dawson) and Jeffrey (Scott Speedman). They think maybe he did it. Matthew’s wife, Tina (Mireille Enos), blames him, too. But we know he didn’t do it. At this point in the film, we’ve already seen Cass being held in the future. Eight years later, in fact. A pedophile named Mika (Kevin Durand) is behind it. There is no mystery here. The only thing we need to find out is whether or not we’ll be able to get Cass back.
We follow each of the characters on this journey. Matthew is a construction worker who drives along the snowy Canadian highway, hoping to find his daughter walking alongside the road. Tina is a housekeeper at a hotel, and sometimes she finds things that remind her of her daughter. Jeffrey pretends to be a pedophile so he can try to capture the real deal. Nicole interviews people and runs the division, apparently. Mika makes Cass recite stories and make younger girls feel more comfortable; he’s no longer interested in her, you see, given her current age. Creepy.
This is a good decision. It means that the character who looks like he’ll be our lead, Matthew, isn’t actually in the film that much. Ryan Reynolds can do drama, but it’s rare that he’s good at it, and he’s not good here. Nobody’s good here, but at least we are constantly jumping back and forth between various shades of “not good.” We can’t focus on one individually poor performance because none of them are particularly great.
It doesn’t work as a straight-up thriller or as a drama. The Captive has a good premise, I’ll admit, but it doesn’t do a whole lot with it. It’s often too silly or too stupid. As a police procedural, one that looks at how the police tries to take down online predators, it might have been more successful. A couple of the film’s best scenes come from when that’s all that happening. Take out the silliness, focus on the police fighting against the pedophiles, and we might have a more interesting movie.
Scene chronology and continuity is played with in The Captive, but not to good effect. Early on, we jump back and forth between the past and present, but it either dulls the suspense or confuses. Eventually we settle just on the present, but the editing still becomes a problem. In one scene, a character is captured in a van. The next, she’s investigating a hotel room. And then we find out later she’s still in the van. Another has a character shot with a stun-dart, but the next time we see him he’s fine, as if it never happened. You can rationalize it if you look at it all in context, but it’s more work than we should have to do.
If there’s something that does work about The Captive, it’s the atmosphere that it generates. The Canadian winter works wonders for setting the scene, and the cinematography makes sure to take full advantage of the snowy wasteland. At times, its eerie feeling almost drags you into the story — until the editing or poor acting/dialogue take you right back out.
The Captive had potential, but that’s about it. The way it was constructed takes you out of the production, and the script and performers don’t help anything. It deals with serious issues but is too silly or stupid to take seriously. Make this movie but from the perspective of the police and as a straight-up procedural and you might have a better movie. I’d say you’d lose the emotional impact, but there’s none of that to be found in The Captive as it has been created right now, anyway.