Review: Captive

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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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Review: Fantastic Four

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DIR: Josh Trank • WRI: Jeremy Slater, Simon Kinberg, Josh Trank  • PRO: Gregory Goodman, Simon Kinberg, Robert Kulzer. Matthew Vaughn • DOP: Matthew Jensen • ED: Elliot Greenberg, Stephen E. Rivkin • DES: Molly Hughes, Chris Seagers • MUS: Marco Beltrami, Philip Glass • CAST: Miles Teller, Michael B. Jordan, Kate Mara, Jamie Bell, Toby Kebbell, Reg E. Cathey, Tim Blake Nelson

 

Seven years after the last Fantastic Four film, or to put it another way, the maximum amount of time that Fox could stall without losing the rights to the characters, we’re given a reboot of the series with fresh new faces and a new origin story to boot.

Based on the Ultimate Fantastic Four comics, this film sees our would-be heroes preparing to travel, not into outer space, but across dimensions, leading to the accident which imbues them with their marvellous powers… eventually. There’s a serious amount of build up and character development exploring Reed Richards’ (Miles Teller) sense of isolation growing up as the only super genius in town and we’re given some rather briefer glances into Ben Grimm’s (Jamie Bell) early home-life, Victor Von Doom’s (Toby Kebbell) volatile personality, Johnny Storm’s (Michael B. Jordan) rebellious streak and Susan Storm’s (Kate Mara) intellect and discerning nature. Even with the sheer number of superhero origin films over the last couple of decades, it’s rare and refreshing to see so much detail given to who these characters are as people, until you realise that you’re quickly running out of movie. The pre-super powers part of the film takes its sweet time and feels like a richer film, but this makes everything afterwards feel forced and rushed.

When the inevitable happens and things go slightly wrong, leaving our titular characters stretchy, invisible, rocky and fiery, all character development stops and we’re rushed through several defining moments. The plot can be quickly summed up with

1- the government gets involved and tries to control the FF.

2- Reed escapes. The others don’t.

3- Reed returns and they learn to fight as a team in one of the most rushed superhero fights to make it onto the big screen.

Given the saturation of superhero cinema at the moment, it’s a little surprising to see another origin story on the screen, particularly when audiences are generally at least a little familiar with who the Fantastic Four are. While some would argue that seven years is more than enough time for some kids to grow up with no knowledge of the previous Fantastic Four films or media, it’s worth noting that the darker content and occasionally strong language in this film really do appeal to an older audience than its predecessors.

With a truly great cast, this film could have probably benefitted from another forty five minutes to really stretch its legs and give us a different type of superhero film. What we’re left with is something that strives for a thought-provoking character piece about isolation, family, trust and responsibility… and then quickly remembers people will want some explosions and punches and tacks on an underwhelming last-minute fight just so nobody can say it didn’t have one. The obligatory villain, Doom, really feels like a missed opportunity. While visual effects shouldn’t be a major priority in a film like this (and I’d have to actually say that the CGI Thing and Human Torch avoid major issues), there’s something that feels a little cheap about Doom’s slightly plastic mummy-like appearance and there’s no hint of character development leaning towards his turn to supervillain. His character was an ass before becoming a super-powered fiend, but there really isn’t enough time given to explain his plans or motivations for villainy.

Is this film better than the last two Fantastic Four outings? Probably. It’s a more mature and carefully made film, without the camp gags and cheesy lines that plagued the others. Unfortunately, it’s no longer 2007. We’re now living in the post-Avengers age of superhero films and audiences have learned to expect it all; humour, action, style and snappy dialogue. Fantastic Four might be the best film we’ve seen made with these characters, (unless you harbour a secret fondness for the ludicrous 1994 film), but it sacrifices humour for darkness and then almost forgets it’s supposed to be a superhero film at all.

It’s fairly good.

It’s fine.

Fantastic? That might be a stretch.

Ronan Daly

12A (See IFCO for details)
97 minutes

Fantastic Four is released 7th August 2015

Fantastic Four – Official Website

 

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