The Captive (2014) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

The Captive (2014)

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Cass was kidnapped from her family at the cusp of adolescence.  As the investigation into her disappearance deepens, more questions are unearthed about the circumstances surrounding her disappearance and the means used to find her.  Atom Egoyan cowrites and directs The Captive, starring Alexia Fast, Rosario Dawson, Mireille Enos, Kevin Durand, Ryan Reynolds, and Scott Speedman.

Buried in my loveThe new millennium has seen a diminished appreciation for the films of Atom Egoyan. While I try and distance myself from reviews when I want to see a film, it was difficult to avoid the stench wafting from the critical consensus. It seemed Egoyan had slipped further with The Captive, treading the waters of poor taste disguised as artistry and cemented his status as an arty director for hire. Imagine my joy finally sitting down to watch the film and discovering they were all wrong.

The Captive is a stunning return to form for Egoyan, a relentlessly paced yet atmospheric thriller which offers plenty of great visuals along with a ridiculous plot. That last part is not meant as a criticism as I was so caught up in the joy of watching The Captive I luxuriated over every twist of the plot. Longtime viewers of Egoyan’s films should not be surprised about the lurid details within The Captive. After all, this comes from a director whose earliest films featured a hotel staffed with a gender-fluid gigolo trying to get a movie deal by taking advantage of his resemblance to a producer’s dead brother.

Compared to those extremes The Captive is relatively tame, but provides a thoughtful examination of Egoyan’s career to this point. He directs with the same artistry he always does, even his genuine misfires such as The Devil’s Knot generally looked good even if the script was lacking. But Egoyan’s return to screenwriting for The Captive shows in the way Egoyan handles his usual themes of surveillance, honesty in a digital age, fluidity of attraction, and its effects on successive generations.

The camera pulls back to reveal layers of surveillance, be it electronic or casual.

The camera pulls back to reveal layers of surveillance, be it electronic or casual.

Egoyan implicates himself as one of the villains of The Captive via the creepy Mika (Kevin Durand). He runs a vile website which stages entertainment sessions and feeds of distraught mothers after abducting their children. It’s hard to compare the thoughtfulness in Egoyan’s work with this monster until a chilling scene where Mika is watching the captive Cass (Alexia Fast) record a message to her mother and criticizes her with, “Do it again, but…a little less self-pity.”

Many of Egoyan’s films are about capturing a unique and emotionally vulnerable state which comes from loss and how that does not always translate to our increasingly digitized times. This line, read with chilling distance from Durand, feeds into the surveillance on Cass and questions the underpinnings of melodramatic cinema. Is Egoyan any better than Mika by manufacturing scenarios which frequently kill children or manipulate the emotionally unwell? I say yes, but the rest of The Captive questions the ethics of that opinion.

Men stare a lot in The Captive from the cold affection of Mika, to the increasingly unhinged gaze of Cass’ father Matthew (Ryan Reynolds), and the emotionally distant Jeffrey (Scott Speedman). One of the creepiest reveals comes when detective Nicole (Rosario Dawson) pulls a school wall aside to find demonically lit Jeffrey observing schoolrooms without the children’s consent. Later he’ll betray Nicole’s trust in a more damaging and explicit way, but for now her complicity in this behavior underscores the fact any emotional observation without consent is an intimate violation of that person’s right to privacy.

Mika's creepy love for his captive and her tormented mother call into question the purpose of melodramatic cinema.

Mika's creepy love for his captive and her tormented mother call into question the ethics of melodramatic cinema.

The way Egoyan films the ever-present voyeurism of our modern age is fascinating and incorporates natural as well as manufactured means. When young Cass is abducted Egoyan keeps the camera far away from Matthew in what seems like a business in the middle of nowhere. As he discovers his daughter missing the camera tightens in on him and circles, revealing a highway, then other businesses, more wilderness, all venues for an unseen observer to prey on the innocent. The action of The Captive belongs to the women, who reveal the artificiality of their environment in footage from footage of the despairing Tina (Mireille Enos)as Nicole takes apart the pretty pictures which record unsuspecting people. The pretty environment is still constructed, by men, to observe and catalog the misery of women. This is the sort of subtext Egoyan is a master of.

This is heady stuff, and might not play as well for viewers who aren’t as familiar with Egoyan’s work, but he delivers thrills which suit his elliptical style perfectly. Each time shift reveals new layers to the plot, carefully remixing the motivations of characters with each revelation. His careful command of the timeline raises new problems which need to be contemplated, not vanquished. The Captive is a rare bird – the thinking consumer’s thriller, made by an artist who makes it possible to enjoy on many levels.

Even if the naysayers are correct and you find The Captive to be lurid trash, you’ll have to at least see it is top-shelf trash. I’ve focused mostly on Egoyan’s role but there isn’t a shred of fat during its run-time.  The Captive is an excellent thriller, a great return to form for one of the best directors alive, and a contemplative narrative on the artifice of cinema. That’s a damn fine set of descriptors for any film, and The Captive delivers at a high level.

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The Captive - TailThe Captive (2014)

Directed by Atom Egoyan.
Screenplay written by Atom Egoyan and David Fraser.
Starring Alexia Fast, Rosario Dawson, Mireille Enos, Kevin Durand, Ryan Reynolds, and Scott Speedman.

Egoyan with text

Posted by Andrew

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