Directed by: Atom Egoyan.
Written by: Atom Egoyan & David Fraser.
Starring: Ryan Reynolds (Matthew), Scott Speedman (Jeffrey), Rosario Dawson (Nicole), Mireille Enos (Tina), Kevin Durand (Mika), Alexia Fast (Cass), Peyton Kennedy (Young Cass), Bruce Greenwood (Vince), Brendan Gall (Teddy), Aaron Poole (Mike), Jason Blicker (Sam), Aidan Shipley (Albert), Ian Matthews (Willy), Christine Horne (Vicky), William MacDonald (Frank), Ella Ballentine (Jennifer).
Atom Egoyan was once one of the best directors in the world. His films like Exotica (1994), The Sweet Hereafter (1997) and Felcia’s Journey (1999) were all brilliant – and although his next few films, Ararat (2002), Where the Truth Lies (2005) and Adoration (2008) received more mixed reviews – I was an admirer of all of them (especially Where the Truth Lies). But with The Captive, Egoyan has now made his third disappointing film in a row – following the lame erotic thriller Chloe (2009) and the abysmal Devils Knot (from earlier this year). I can at least say that The Captive is an improvement over those two films – and unlike them actually does show signs of the director Egoyan can be. Yet the film is still a rather ridiculous thriller, with delusions of being something deeper and more important than it is.
The film flashes back and forth in time over an eight-year span. Matthew (Ryan Reynolds) is taking his nine-year old daughter Cass home from figure skating practice one day, when he stops at a diner to pick up a pie. When he returns to the car a few minutes later, Cass has vanished without a trace. The cops, Jeffrey (Scott Speedman) and Nicole (Rosario Dawson) believe that perhaps Matthew was involved. He had an assault charge when he was a teenager, and he and his wife Tina (Mirelle Enos) are having financial troubles. But as the years tick by, and there’s no trace of Cass anywhere, the case goes could. But then Jeffrey sees someone online who he thinks maybe Cass. She’s being used to try and lure other kids to a pedophile ring. We already know Cass is alive – she’s being held captive by Mika (Kevin Durand) a soft-spoken giant, who works for Vince (Bruce Greenwood) – who we immediately get an uneasy feeling about. To make matters worse, in this timeline (the modern one) Nicole has also gone missing – and Jeffrey is trying to crack that case as well.
Egoyan has often used the time jump gimmick in his storytelling. In a film like Exotica, he used it to devastating effect. But here, it simply feels like a gimmick. Egoyan does nothing to indicate what time period we are in at any given time – and the actors look the same in each – but it’s easy enough to figure out (at least for me, there was a group of guys in the showing I attended who seemed confused – but then walked in 15 minutes late, so that didn’t help either). But that doesn’t help disguise what is really a rather ridiculous story where the bad guys are supposed to be smart (they have the best encryption in the world were told) but then continue to be caught while doing incredibly stupid things (requesting a meeting with Jeffrey, posing as a young girl, online after only a couple minutes on conversation, filming an interview with Cass old figure skating partner, in full view of Matthew, etc.). The motives for taking Nicole are explained in one scene, but don’t make a whole lot of sense (nor does what Durand keeps telling her as he holds her captive – apparently based on a conversation that took place off screen). The movies climax devolves into poorly executed car chases and shootouts, and then, ridiculously, tries to put a happy ending on the proceedings.
What makes matters worse is that there are some very good things about The Captive. Until it devolves in the second hour, it’s actually quite involving and really does play out like the worst nightmare of any parent (akin to last year’s vastly superior Prisoners). Egoyan effectively uses the snow covered landscape. Ryan Reynolds has perhaps never been better – he’s convincing as a normal man coming apart at the seams with guilt. Enos is good as the mother who cannot stand the sight of her husband all these years later. Speedman is convincing as a driven cop who doesn’t know when to draw the line. Even Durand, stuck with a nearly impossible role, is effectively creepy at first.
But that’s all undone by the numerous missteps the film makes. The plot contrivances are one thing, but it also saddles a talented actress like Dawson with a role where she spouts nothing but clichés (her speech in a low point). More than his last two films, there are things to admire in The Captive – perhaps with another pass or two at the screenplay; it may have even been a good movie. But once again, I take no pleasure in saying that I was disappointed in the latest Egoyan film. Perhaps it would be easier on me to stop expecting so much from him.