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CANNES – “It’s not a bad idea for a reality show.” So says one of the geniuses in a spectacularly inept detective unit investigating a pedophile ring in The Captive. The criminal masterminds run a sideline in emotional porn by tormenting the parents of abducted children with reminders of their loss while filming them on hidden cameras. Sadly, the wiseass cop may have a point, since Atom Egoyan‘s lumbering thriller is otherwise of minimal use. The director renders an already bogus story more preposterous by lathering it in portentous solemnity; misguided loyalty to competition alumni is the only explanation for this film’s presence in the Cannes lineup.
Egoyan won the Special Jury Prize in Cannes in 1997 for arguably his best film, The Sweet Hereafter, based on the Russell Banks novel about grief, anger and guilt in the aftermath of a tragedy involving children. A more sinister variation on that scenario unfolds, again in a snowbound small town, in what may be his worst film, written by Egoyan and David Fraser from the director’s story.
The other inevitable comparison here is with Denis Villeneuve‘s Prisoners, which also saw a Canadian director putting a somber, arty gloss on a Hollywood-style story of child abduction. While not without heavy-handed touches, that grittier film was nonetheless vastly superior, particularly in its acting and visuals, and its enveloping mood.
Structured in Egoyan’s familiar time-shuffling mosaic style, The Captive is drowned from its earliest scenes in composer Mychael Danna‘s lugubrious score, unsuccessfully attempting to create suspense, atmosphere, or – God forbid – an emotional connection to this gelid account of a horrific crime and the years of family trauma that it sparks.
A landscape contractor whose business is in trouble, Matthew Lane (Ryan Reynolds) is driving his 9-year-old daughter Cass (Peyton Kennedy) home from ice-skating practice. They stop to pick up pie at a highway diner during a heavy snowfall, and in the few minutes he’s inside, Cass disappears from her dad’s pickup. Working late at her job as a hotel cleaner when the incident happened, Matt’s wife, Tina (Mireille Enos), settles instantly into blame mode, shutting out her husband and making her the most unsympathetic grieving screen mother in recent memory.
Before any of this has been divulged, Egoyan has already exposed us to the kidnapper, Mika (Kevin Durand), an icily elegant aesthete with a thing for Mozart’s “Queen of the Night” aria. (Clearly, John Malkovich or Julian Sands weren’t available.) It’s eight years later and the teenage Cass (Alexia Fast) has been kept in confinement by Mika. He has her narrate childhood memories to accompany closed-circuit streaming of Tina as she finds objects associated with her missing daughter that have been planted in the rooms she cleans.
Meanwhile, we learn of the disappearance of Det. Nicole Dunlop (Rosario Dawson) after a charity ball where she was being honored as the public face of the police force’s anti-pedophilia crackdown. That leaves her holed up in squalor in a mullet dress for much of the action, but given the ludicrous behavior of the police, that might be the least of her problems. This is the kind of movie in which a dumb cop makes a connection to online child predators and then leaves his webcam on to give the criminals a useful assist.
That model detective would be Jeff Cornwall, played by Scott Speedman with so little gravitas that you wonder how he even passed the exams. Like Nicole, Jeff is drawn to work with the child-related crime unit by some dark episode in his past, but Egoyan somehow forgets to delve into that.
The plotting here is so hopelessly tangled, clichéd, and bereft of psychological complexity that it’s difficult to care what happens to any of these people. That goes even for poor Cass, who seems at times to have a touch of Stockholm syndrome but otherwise just looks bored sitting around on the pink princess bed she’s outgrown. As Mika’s antics become more bizarre and her distraught dad out of nowhere starts outsmarting her tormentors, the movie goes from uninvolving to risible.
Given the nature of the crimes portrayed, it’s curious how thoroughly this film bypasses any moments that could be called unsettling. And Egoyan’s drowsy handling of the accelerated action as his denouement approaches is on par with the methods of his cop characters.
If his name weren’t on the mess of a screenplay it might be easy to assume Egoyan took The Captive as a job for hire. There’s no evidence of a personal investment in any of the characters or in the standard-issue dramatic themes, despite echoes of his earlier work. That leaves zero room for anyone in the cast to give a halfway interesting performance, though Reynolds is as solid as the inconsistently drawn role allows.
Production companies: Ego Film Arts, The Film Farm
Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Scott Speedman, Rosario Dawson, Mireille Enos, Kevin Durand, Alexia Fast, Bruce Greenwood, Christine Horne, Arsinee Khanjian, Ian Matthews, Peyton Kennedy
Director: Atom Egoyan
Screenwriters: Atom Egoyan, David Fraser
Producers: Atom Egoyan, Simone Urdl, Jennifer Weiss, Stephen Traynor
Executive producers: Michele and Laurent Petin, Patrice Theroux, Bryan Gliserman
Director of photography: Paul Sarossy
Production designer: Phillip Barker
Costume designer: Debra Hanson
Editor: Susan Shipton
Music: Mychael Danna
No rating, 112 minutes
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