Captive and all the images you see in this review are owned by Paramount Pictures
Directed by Jerry Jameson
While the post summer doldrums is dying down, there’s still a bit more mediocrity to fill out the multiplex. I’d never even heard of this movie until I walked into the theater for something completely different and not a peep about it since its release. Still though, even though it’s being released with so little fanfare, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to be bad, right? Oh who am I kidding? At this time of year it’s not a question of IF it’s bad but HOW bad. Does this movie manage to rise above the rest of the lousy films that came out recently or does this somehow manage to be one of the worst? Let’s find out!!
The movie is a dramatization of Brian Nichols’s escape from the Fulton County Courthouse in March of 2005. He shot and killed three people while leaving the courthouse and another person during his run from the law who just so happened to be an FBI agent so needless to say that with four murders under his belt he’s keen not to face the music for all that. He somehow manages to evade the authorities long enough to find a place to lay low for a bit which happens to be the apartment of Ashley Smith, a woman recovering from an addiction to meth and trying to stay clean so she can get her daughter back. Needless to say that being held hostage in her own home by a homicidal dick bag is going to throw a wrench in those plans especially if the guy snaps and kills her. Will Ashley (Kate Mara) be able to survive the night with this man responsible for three murders? Will Brian (David Oyelowo) actually accept responsibility for his actions and turn himself in? How many freaking biopic have I had to sit through this month!?
Did you know this was yet another Christian movie? No seriously, there’s a book that Ashley reads a couple of times throughout the movie (The Purpose Driven Life) and the entire epilogue is about how fucking awesome this book is and how much you should all go buy it. As far as I can tell from the passages that were read in the movie, the book is a lot of that bullshit that War Room was trying to say about how nothing is more important than God so do everything for him and no one else. Is that really a tenant for most sects of Christianity? I mean I get that God and Jesus (and Holy Spirit I guess?) are at the top of the food chain, but what’s the purpose of all the self-deprecation? Do they think that God’s only purpose in putting us on Earth is to stroke his ego and not worry about the world around us that he provided and allows to continue existing? I don’t know, but the movie’s product placement here is unbearably obnoxious and pulls you out of whatever else is going on here. Speaking of which, the movie is decent at best with some good acting but not much else. Kate Mara and David Oyelowo do great with their roles of Ashley and Brian respectively, but that’s literally all we have to carry us throughout the movie. After the absolute disaster that was Fantastic Four, it’s nice to see at least one of the actors bounce back from it and this movie shows that she is a legitimately competent actor no matter how bad she came across in that other film. Her character is very vulnerable in a number of ways, what with her addiction to Meth eating away at her as she tries to stay clean, the stress of feeling that others are trying to prove their superiority by being generous to her (which she has to accept graciously out of necessity) and of course the immediate threat of Brian who has taken her hostage and may very well kill her at any moment.
David Oyelowo has a less complicated character to play but the guy is a damn good actor so he sells whatever emotions he has to. It’s just that they don’t go much further than being angry and paranoid followed by an unconvincing redemptive arc. You never guy this guy as anything but a terrible person, but he also doesn’t come across as a literal monster. He’s killed at least three people, but he’s also not Dexter or Hannibal Lecter that takes joy in being awful scum. You get the sense that he’s still struggling to figure out what to do and just lets his anger and frustration guide him into doing awful things. Their interactions together are good (as they’d have to be considering the movie is almost entirely scenes with those two together) so while the movie itself is dull from start to finish, at least something is there to hold onto and keep your attention throughout its run time. The only other positive thing I can think of is that occasionally the cinematography I will go beyond what strictly needed and give us a shot or two that looks pretty decent and has a bit of creativity to it.
Aside from whoring out the book to its audience, the movies biggest crime is that it’s a thriller that’s not all that exciting or tense. There are indeed moments of tension here and there, but they are very brief and most of them are early on which is a terrible mistake for this movie considering it levels off at the thirty minute mark and never gets any more intense than that. It’s kind of hard to be objective of that aspect though because this is in fact based on a true story that was all over the news, so most people waking into this are going to know how it ends. It’s actually pretty unique as far as I can recall for a biopic which is that it takes a single news event that lasted no more than one day, and basically recreates it as it was reported. The closest thing I can think of is Dog Day Afternoon which was INSPIRED by a true story, but this movie cannot afford those kinds of comparisons considering that that’s a masterpiece while this is… not. Because the movie is sticking so close the real story (and doesn’t have anything else of significance to cut to in order to flesh out the script) there’s nothing else here to focus on EXECEPT the tension of the situation which is very much undercut because anyone who knows this story knows exactly how it ends! Some might say that taking into account the real life circumstances surrounding this movie (everyone knows the story) is being un-objective to the movie as an individual piece of work. Okay, we can play that game. After all, everyone has seen movies multiple times even though we know how it ends, so that’s not much different than going into a movie knowing the story. When thinking of the movie as if I DON’T know how it ends, I think it does come across a bit better simply because the story itself (in real life as well as in here) has some odd and unexpected moments that might throw off movie goes who are savvy to how these kind of movies usually go. Yes, truth is in fact stranger than fiction and while it’s not WILDELY out there, there are moments where simple realistic human interactions cause some strange chemistry and some odd outcomes.
That said, I do want to reiterate a very important point from earlier and that’s integral as to why this doesn’t work as a thriller. The movie tapers off at about thirty minutes. There is nothing past the initial scenes where he’s just broken into her place that builds tension. I mentioned the tension release cycle in my review of The Visit, and while that was a damn near masterclass in the technique, this is the absolute opposite. It needed more moments of unexpected terror or something to change their dynamics in a significant way to keep the audience from being complacent. They do none of that and it just ruins the movie. Nothing of interest happens after a certain point and the audience just adjusts to the level the movie coasts on for the most part. The situation is indeed dangerous, but it’s the same amount of danger at the hour and twenty mark as it was at the forty minute mark. No spikes in drama, and no moment of relaxation to put the audience at ease before bringing the tension back up. It’s completely monotonous.
So that’s about it; Good performances from our leads, but the script never has an interest in how the audience reacts to what’s on screen as much as it wants to recreate this story that we all already know. That would normally be the end of my thoughts on this, but let’s get back to that fucking book because it’s a real sticking point for me. Even though I don’t the movie makes this interesting, the story here is supposed to be about the character of Ashley and her strength in this terrible situation that she somehow survived. That whole aspect of the movie though is subsumed by this god damn book and the author at the very end of the movie and it’s pretty damn insulting. I mean the movie ends with a clip of the real Ashley Smith on Oprah but then the author comes onto the show and the final words of the movie are from him talking about the powerful message it can impart like it was somehow responsible for Brian eventually turning himself in. Not the woman he couldn’t bring himself to kill and eventually let go, but the fucking book she read to him while he was eating pancakes. Yuck. Then again, in that Oprah clip Ashley seemed perfectly fine with the author taking over and she seems to be a real big booster for this book so who the fuck am I to judge how the movie ends she’s perfectly okay with that? It bugs me the same way is War Room does with its horrible ending, but I’ll give this movie points for being a nearly self-contained movie with a tacked on infomercial on the end instead of being that propagandist shit storm which I am convinced now was spawned from the depths of Hell to make humanity just a little bit more obnoxious. It’s a little bit worse than 90 Minutes in Heaven (though this is a much better movie) because at least that movie was about that person and his own experiences which means it makes sense when he the real life Don Piper gets to speak up at the end. This author just caught a lucky fucking break and it feels like they were milking this tragedy for all it’s worth just to get a couple more reprints of his self-help Pablum.
While this movie is so much better than 90 Minutes in Heaven, it ends up bothering me a lot more than that one and aside from my own gripes about its message or whatever; it’s just a mediocre thriller that doesn’t deserve your time and money. We’re getting some much more interesting stuff in the coming weeks so why even bother with something like this?
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