Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: a grizzled father clashes with a troubled detective as they search for the former’s missing daughter in the dead of winter, in this thriller from a Canadian director. You’re stopping me? Great.
We’re not talking about Denis Villenueve’s strikingly moody, logically suspect Prisoners, though, but Atom Egoyan’s similarly titled and thoroughly lunkheaded The Captive.
Before the opening credits have ended, we meet not only the captive herself, a teenage girl named Cassandra (Alexia Fast), but her captor, Mika (Kevin Durand), a preening real estate developer with a suitably pervy mustache. It’s been eight years since Cassandra’s abduction near Niagara Falls, but Mika has only recently begun taunting her estranged parents, Matthew (Ryan Reynolds) and Tina (Mireille Enos), covertly broadcasting their renewed anguish for an unseen audience and still stumping the authorities, chief among them Detectives Dunlop (Rosario Dawson) and Cornwall (Scott Speedman).
For Egoyan (The Sweet Hereafter), mysteries involving grief, guilt, obscured truth and voyeurism are his bread and butter. The past few years have seen a downward slide in quality, with Adoration and Where the Truth Lies proving to be overwrought retreads of his motifs and techniques in addition to the relatively anonymous Devil’s Knot. Only 2010’s Chloe delivered anything close to knowingly tawdry thrills; if only that weren’t too high a bar for The Captive to clear.
The cast is stranded in contrary versions of whatever this movie might have been. For Reynolds and Enos, it’s a chilly drama about grief and guilt, and they are adequately anguished whenever they’re given the spotlight. For Dawson and Speedman, it’s a tedious procedural reminiscent of ‘90s James Patterson adaptations and the like. (No movie should be able to evoke the forgettable Diane Lane vehicle, Untraceable, and yet…)
Then there’s the matter of Durand. A hulking character actor often relegated to sidekick and henchmen roles, he seems so immediately dastardly and arch that, had we not immediately known what became of Cassandra, one could easily imagine he’d tied her to a railroad track somewhere, surrounded by crates of lit dynamite. He’s in the late-period de Palma version of this story, enlisting co-conspirators to drug and kidnap key characters while he orchestrates laughably elaborate scenarios in which the police and parents remain oh-so frustratingly close to solving the case.
It’s the kind of movie where Mika keeps a mirror beside his computer monitor for the explicit purpose of allowing the audience to see his every quivering smirk. (Even Stanley Tucci in The Lovely Bones thinks he should bring it down a notch.) It’s the kind of movie where full-grown fir trees are used as bread crumbs in broad daylight, or where culprits underline their personal relationship out loud as no supposedly familiar parties ever would, the kind of movie that offers exchanges like:
- Character 1: “He reminded me of someone from my past.”
- Character 2: “Well, this is the present.”
Perhaps worst of all, it squanders a potentially resonant motive along the lines of Chloe‘s meta-textual nods to our own need as viewers to get our kicks vicariously through storytelling.
So misguided are so many choices that it’s tempting to assume a sort of intentionally dissonant agenda on Egoyan’s part. Alas, by the end of The Captive, one wonders less about whether certain characters will survive this ordeal and more about whether certain careers can.
The Upside: Ryan Reynolds and Mireille Enos both give good cryface.
The Downside: Just about everything else.
On the Side: The French title is Captives, only furthering comparisons to Prisoners.