Review: Captive


DIR: Jerry Jameson • WRI: Brian Bird • PRO: Lucas Akoskin, Terry Botwick, Alex Garcia, David Oyelowo, Ken Wales, Katrina Wolfe • DOP: Luis David Sansans • ED: Melissa Kent • MUS: Lorne Balfe • DES: Sandra Cabriada • CAST: Kate Mara, David Oyelowo, Michael Kenneth Williams, Mimi Rogers

The recent spate of faith-based films has garnered mixed critical responses from the cinema-going public. Christian devotees flock to such feel-good films in their droves, attracted to the narrative’s core spiritual message, reaffirming audiences’ commitment to God and their chosen spiritual path. Alternatively, such family-orientated films have launched polemics from critics for substandard plots, economic production values and primarily, alienating heathens with sanctimonious ideologies, which trumpet a transparent proselytizing narrative that fails to inspire on any dramatic or entertainment level. Films such as War Room, 90 Minutes in Heaven and Heaven is for Real are exemplar of a genre that is both actively sought out by faithful audiences for their explicit Christian overtones and rejected by sceptics for their shameless promotion of evangelistic agendas, which many secular subscribers find hard to swallow.

Jerry Jameson’s faith-based, crime drama and psychological thriller, Captive, starring Kate Mara and David Oyelowo, is based on the real-life account of the 2005 Atlanta Hostage Hero, Ashley Smith’s book Unlikely Angel. The film recounts Smith’s ordeal at the hands of murderer and rapist Brian Nichols, who escaped from custody whilst awaiting trial, murdering four people, including the trial’s presiding judge. Forcing his way into the home of the recovering drug addict and single mother and holding her captive for seven hours, the film’s explores the religious strategy employed by Smith in an attempt to survive her ordeal at the hands of Nichols, including reading aloud extracts from Christian pastor Rick Warren’s book, The Purpose Driven Life, which emphasizes the meaning of existence is only found through God.

Despite its gripping subject matter and highly stylized cinematic aesthetic, intensified by an urgent handheld camera and a purity to its sharply cut sequences, Captive’s overall lack of tension emanating from a substandard screenplay, recalls an uninspiring, made-for-television movie rather than an unnerving and absorbing cinematic drama, which fails to articulate the significance of the real-life religious encounter between two deeply tortured souls. Screenwriter Brian Bird approaches the spiritual relationship between the lead characters with trepidation, underplaying the theological bond that becomes the catalyst to redemption and informs the film’s core philosophy and as a result, the moment of spiritual enlightenment and self-realisation becomes remarkably overshadowed and simply unconvincing.

In an attempt to possibly avoid the faith-based film curse, its dubious ideologies and a fear of alienating cynical audiences, Captive bolsters the emotional relationship between a psychotic murderer and drug addict, the crucial religious connotations within the narrative, subdued and prosaic. However, unlike most of the recent outpourings of pious Hollywood films, Captive is based on a real-life event and is dependent upon its religious signifiers in order to comprehend its characters’ abrupt enlightened transformations. Rather than blind its audience with pietistic, sermonizing overtones, the film devalues these crucial narrative elements and in its subduing, the film’s narrative simply does not gel. By diverting attention from the religious entente to the emotional affinity between the protagonists, tenuously held together by strained relationships with their children, Captive places a befuddled and detached leading cast in an awkward position, unable to discern the characters’ psychology and grasp the gravity of their spiritual transformation.

The physical transformations undertaken by Mara and Oyelowo attempt to convince and compensate for the script’s shortcomings and Mara’s emaciated frame and bloodshot hollow eyes suggest a deeply scarred woman in the throes of addiction and spiritual cynicism, desperate to find deeper meaning, inner peace and ultimate salvation. However, owing to an ill-conceived and disconnected script, Mara is unable to satisfactorily engage with the mental or spiritual paralyses experienced by Ashley Smith and there remains a constant reminder that Mara is performing rather than inhabiting the psychology of drug-addled captive. Oyelowo’s considerable physique equally convinces as the unpredictable psychopath and navigates his character’s psychological instability with considerable investment and plausible menace. He does, however, appear out of depth when confronted with the emotionally vulnerable aspects of his character, which, as the crux of Nichols’ swift spiritual transformation, is crucial in comprehending the trajectory of his ultimate enlightenment and which Oyelowo’s performance fails to execute.

Despite its attempts to construct itself as a crime drama and psychological thriller, rather than exploit a pontificating agenda to appeal a more balanced audience, Captive remains an unsatisfactory account of a notorious real-life event that made headlines around the world, owing to the phenomenal spiritual awakening of a cold-blooded murderer and rapist. The film’s reluctance to overinvest in its religious significance will certainly not satisfy the spiritual nor will it come as a welcome relief to the skeptical, placing the overall audience in a state of limbo. The unnecessary inclusion of a post-captivity interview in 2005 between Ashley Smith and pastor Rick Warren with Oprah Winfrey as the credits close, appears to concede that the film’s interpretation of events and characters are inadequately portrayed and is utilized to make sense to the audience of Smith and Nichols’ trauma and transformation, which Captive evidently fails to delineate. Perhaps if the film had embraced a more explicit religious trajectory, which is so critical an element within the faith-based genre, Captive itself could have ascended to a higher place of being.

Dee O’Donoghue

12A (See IFCO for details)

96 minutes
Captive is released 25th September 2015

Captive – Official Website


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