Cannes 2014: Atom Egoyan’s ‘The Captive’ a sour play-by-the-numbers investigation thriller

Captive PosterThe Captive

Written by Atom Egoyan and David Fraser

Directed by Atom Egoyan

Canada, 2014

Atom Egoyan’s The Captive pits Ryan Reynolds as a blue collar vigilante in an investigatory drama of pedophiles and police-work. However, while its central themes seem reminiscent of the recent Prisoners, its execution is regrettably drawn from cartoons, Lifetime schlock, and the worst traits of primetime detective shows. Following an increasing number of recent failings for the Canadian director, The Captive sets itself up for a return to the form of his heartfelt mid-90s melodrama The Sweet Hereafter, but thanks to the exacerbated direction and faux-camp spirit, it evokes hardly any reaction other than groans and pity-guffaws.

Sporting a Carhartt baseball cap, rugged beard, and questionably ill demeanor, Matthew (Ryan Reynolds) watches on as his daughter and her friend twirl about a Niagara ice skating rink. As he stops for a pie on the way home, he returns to a father’s worst fear: a chilling emptiness in place of his daughter in the car seat. Told across several timelines in a period of eight years, the film traces the mounting drama of uncovering a ring of online predators and distributors in order to serve the community, as well as blaze the trail to find the missing Cass (Peyton Kennedy). Head of this moral warrior stampede is the strong yet understanding Nicole (Rosario Dawson), quick to form a relationship with the mother Tina (Mireille Enos), and brazen partner (both in work and play) Jeffrey (Scott Speedman). They’re good-cop-bad-cop to an almost parodic end, but they do manage to stumble their way into Mika’s (Kevin Durand) operatic circle of abuse.

If you think that the multiple timelines or the wealth of characters within the film might be confusing, don’t fear: Egoyan and co-writer David Fraser are not afraid to treat their audience like a toddler consuming media for the first time. Whether it be the John-Waters-mustache-twirling cartoon of a James Bond villain in Durand’s Mika or the working class hero card played with Reynolds’s Matthew, Egoyan drowns the narrative with familiar tropes, only to have them watered down to their most horrifically dull stature. A mid-film speech by Dawson attempts to rally tension against the present Mika, yet the force behind her words, as with the rest of the script, falls flat enough that not even a campy pleasure could be drawn from it.


If a failed mode of engagement with a fairly word-driven movie wasn’t enough, the pure pleasure of its genre, the investigation, presents boring and technologically-confused unfolding of police faculties. One early scene inside the department introduces us to a member of the team (none of which are expounded further than their stereotypical CSI-like roles) who is able to identify a clear picture through a jumble of puzzle pieces. That talent is impressive, sure, but Egoyan smugly includes it as if a smart team can play as rival to wit of detailing in a film like Zodiac. The actual working of the internet-driven team of Mika’s companions is inarticulate to the point that he may as well ask the team to enhance a 50 x 50 .jpg for clues in the investigation. It’s indicative of the overall problem: the film is rushed, superficial, and, more often than not, insulting.

When the narrative finally manages to heat up, the chase is genuinely intense as we seek action-packed fulfillment down the winding road the film has taken. Yet even this is composed as a flat, literal sequence: close-ups on interest points dictate where we should pay attention, yet take away the fun. Even when it attempts to exert some strength, the play-by-the-numbers attitude comes creeping along yet again, effectively placing The Captive as the sore disappointment so far of this year’s Cannes.

— Zach Lewis

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