Director: Atom Egoyan
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Rosario Dawson, Scott Speedman, Mireille Enos
The general consensus on Atom Egoyan seems to be that he's been in a sharp decline as an artist for the last decade, or so. I haven't really agreed with that, having found things to like about even Where the Truth Lies and Chloe, two of his least loved films, but The Captive may be the film that makes me change my tune. This abduction thriller is not just a mess, it's borderline unwatchable. Built around characters who are wafer thin, performances that never quite jive with each other, and a story which, were it told in linear fashion rather than in Egoyan's signature scrambled narrative style, would be immediately exposed as a tale that wouldn't even qualify for distinction as a good Lifetime movie, it fails in pretty much every respect. Seriously, this thing is baaaaad.
The principle characters in The Captive are Matthew (Ryan Reynolds) and Tina (Mireille Enos), a couple whose young daughter is abducted, Nicole (Rosario Dawson) and Jeffrey (Scott Speedman), police detectives specializing in sex crimes where the victims are children, and Cass (Alexia Fast) and Mika (Kevin Durand), the captive of the title and her captor. The story (if not the film) begins with Matthew bringing Cass home after an afternoon training with her figure skating partner, and stopping off at a roadside diner to buy a pie. Matthew goes inside while Cass stays in the truck, and when he returns she's nowhere to be found. The police, and in particular Jeffrey, who is new to the sex crimes against children division and eager to start making a difference, immediately suspect that Matthew isn't telling them everything and that he may have had something to do with Cass' disappearance. Matthew denies any involvement but the suspicion and the stress of Cass' prolonged absence strains his marriage, and as the eight years of the narrative's timeline pass, he and Tina grow further and further apart, though they never divorce. Jeffrey and Nicole, meanwhile, become a couple, though their personal and professional relationship is often affected by her disapproval of Jeffrey's methods when it comes to catching the bad guys. During the later years of the investigation Nicole (who becomes the public face of the crusade against child predators) also goes missing.
All the while Cass is kept locked up in the basement of Mika's home, having outgrown his interest over the course of eight years but having been groomed to take on a new role helping to lure other children into the pedophile ring that he's a part of. For reasons that only begin to become clear later on, Mika also allows Cass to maintain a one-sided connection to her parents by setting up a camera in a room of the hotel where Tina works as a maid and allowing Cass to watch a live feed from time to time while Mika arranges for items that Tina will recognize as having belonged to Cass to be left in the room for her to find. Believing that Cass is still alive and that the police's efforts to find her are wanting, Matthew tries to take matters into his own hands, closing in on Mika and his partners but also getting himself caught in the riptide of their grander scheme.
Written by Egoyan and David Fraser, The Captive is the kind of story that can only function by having its characters operate at the lowest possible level of intelligence. This is particularly true of the police characters, who conduct themselves most of the time in ways that are, at best, counterproductive, and at worst moronic. Fortunately the criminals are just as stupid, but unfortunately every bystander in the film is stupid, too, so there's not even anyone around who can step in and put an end to the idiocy. The non-linear narrative structure functions, at least in the beginning, to mask how ridiculous and full of plot holes the story truly is but the more the full picture comes into focus, the more The Captive becomes an exercise in puzzle solving rather than a narrative actually worth exploring. By the time Jeffrey uses his own niece as bait to catch members of Mika's pedophile ring and then has a whole conversation about it with Nicole in front of the computer where the niece was just Skyping with Cass under Mika's direction, allowing Mika to eavesdrop, I pretty much gave up on this whole thing.
The Captive is a film entirely without saving graces. Reynolds does what he can with a character who is nothing but incoherent anguish and Enos does more than ought to be possible with a character who has been rendered utterly flat with despair, but neither Matthew nor Tina ever become fully fleshed out characters - they are, at all times, reduced to "characteristics." Dawson and Speedman, meanwhile, are stuck with characters whose actions ultimately lack any kind of believability, bound as they are to the plot contrivances which push the story forward at the cost of any kind of character integrity or narrative logic. As for Durand as the story's antagonist, he delivers a performance so wildly, foppishly over the top that the character seems to come not only from a different film, but from an entirely different dimension than the other characters around him. Seriously, just skip this one, don't even pause to watch if you catch it on TV. It's not worth it.