Sharp direction and on-the-nose central performances by Tim Roth and Julia Ormond put some shine into “Captives,” a dramatic love story between a con and a middle-class rebel that reps an interesting feature debut by British helmer Angela Pope. Though scripting falls a tad short of its opening ambitions, pic has enough going for it to break out into small-time theatrical biz on the strength of Roth’s name.
Ormond plays Rachel, a young dentist recently separated from her husband (Peter Capaldi) who takes a two-day-a-week job at a prison. One of her patients is tough but charming Philip (Roth), who’s coming to the end of a 10-year stint in stir and soon starts coming on to Rachel.
Sexual chemistry gradually wears down Rachel’s professional qualms and, in an energetic sex scene in a diner’s washroom stall, the duo consummate their mutual craving on one of Philip’s day-release outings. Their growing attraction, however, has been noted by Philip’s fellow cons, one of whom, a black drug dealer named Towler (Colin Salmon), uses the info to blackmail Rachel into smuggling a package into jail.
Though shaken by her discovery that Philip was convicted of murdering his girlfriend, Rachel agrees to Towler’s terms, especially when he starts threatening her best friend (Siobhan Redmond). The package turns out to contain a gun, not drugs, and at the last moment Rachel leaves the jail with the hardware still on her. Followed by Towler’s psychotic henchman Lenny (Keith Allen), she becomes the focus of a final shootout.
The opening reels of “Captives” have a taut, thriller-manque feel that, combined with the offbeat nature of the love story, holds the attention. Roth (returning to his native accent after a spell playing Yanks) and Ormond (“Young Catherine,””Stalin”) click fast as screen partners, the former’s hard-edged Cockney charm playing off well against the latter’s middle-class poise.
Surrounding perfs by stalwarts like Redmond (excellent in the Brit internal affairs series “Between the Lines”) and Allen (“Young Americans,””Beyond Bedlam”) provide solid background.
It’s in the development of the Philip-Rachel relationship, following their initial hots for each other, that the script starts to hang fire, with some below-par dialogue and uncertain rhythm. Latter half of the pic, though OK, never quite fulfills the opening promise of an obsessive cross-tracks love story , and the thriller elements lack the sheer oomph needed to carry the viewer into different territory.
Pope, whose background has been mostly in docus over the past 20-odd years, shows good command of resources. Though chiefly funded by the BBC, pic (which shot late last year under the title “The Prisoner”) has none of the usual telepic feel, thanks to good production values, studio work at Shepperton, and a fuller, $ 3 million budget.
Remi Adefarasin’s lensing is consistently rich and interesting, tweaked by Colin Towns’ pacey score and pro cutting by Dave King. “Captives” is no earth-shaker, but announces a director of promise, plus an actress of considerable presence in the assured Ormond.