×

Film Review: ‘Captive’

David Oyelowo and Kate Mara carry a true crime story with faith-based elements that works best as a two-hander.

With:
David Oyelowo, Kate Mara, Michael Kenneth Williams, Leonor Varela, Mimi Rogers, Jessica Oyelowo.

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3268668/

True crime and Christian filmmaking collide with more subtlety than either genre is typically known for in “Captive.” Sturdy performances from stars David Oyelowo, as a killer on the run, and Kate Mara, as his meth-addict hostage discovering a sense of purpose in her life, help to temper any temptations toward hysteria or preachiness and elevate what otherwise would have been standard movie-of-the-week fare 20 years ago. And yet by choosing not to force-feed any explicitly religious messaging, veteran TV helmer Jerry Jameson’s intimate thriller may sacrifice some commercial appeal with finicky faith-based auds.

The true story of Ashley Smith (Mara), a waitress and single mom on the verge of losing her daughter due to a nasty drug addiction, and her fateful encounter with escaped criminal Brian Nichols (Oyelowo), who held Smith hostage in her own apartment after breaking out of a courthouse jail and killing four people, generated major headlines back in 2005. Smith went on to recount the experience in her memoir, “Unlikely Angel,” crediting Rick Warren’s inspirational bestseller “The Purpose Driven Life” as playing the pivotal role in her ultimate escape and ability to get Nichols to turn himself in to the law.

That detail alone could have easily resulted in a feature-length ad for either Warren’s book or his Christian-based philosophy, but somehow “Captive” dodges the proselytizing point of view of so many faith-based films to tell a more nuanced and universal story of two broken people forming an unlikely connection. Emphasizing qualities like compassion, hope, grace and spiritual introspection rather than catering to persecution paranoia or depicting a hero self-righteously correcting the wrongs of others, Jameson and scribe Brian Bird offer up a more inspired — if not exactly artful — alternative in the burgeoning faith genre.

Popular on Variety

It certainly helps to have actors of Oyelowo and Mara’s skill to breathe life into characters drawn with at least some degree of complexity. The self-destructive junkie is a well-worn cliche by this point, but Mara translates Smith’s very real struggle to the screen with just the right mix of cynicism, strength and vulnerability. It only takes a handful of establishing scenes to fully convey the vicious cycle of how an addict can genuinely care about the very people she knows she’s hurting and the way that self-awareness leads right back to drug abuse.

Oyelowo is even more intriguing as a felon introduced through acts of brutal violence (he viciously assaults a prison guard to break free before murdering a judge, court reporter, security guard and one of his multiple carjacking targets), who harbors deep emotional and psychological wounds. It’s a credit to the sensitivity and conviction of the actor and the filmmakers that despite Nichols’ actions and his lack of a tidy redemption arc, the portrayal remains entirely human — at times even sympathetic — throughout.

Although “Captive” largely succeeds as a two-hander, it stumbles in the minimal attempts to broaden the scope beyond Smith and Nichols’ time together. The primary subplot involving the team of detectives (Michael Kenneth Williams and Leonor Varela) trying to track Nichols down saddles the usually reliable Williams with terrible dialogue and over-the-top actions (his vending-machine beatdown is a low point). The frequently undervalued Mimi Rogers fares better in a few scenes as Smith’s aunt, charged with caring for her daughter.

In general, the film is stronger when characters aren’t speaking. Oyelowo and Mara make the most of their smaller silent moments, forging a tenuous bond by slowly and believably opening up to each other, and Nichols’ entire introduction is a lengthy and tense action sequence devoid of dialogue (in which a buffed-up Oyelowo races through the streets sporting a suit jacket with no shirt underneath — proving a different kind of commitment to the role).

Luis Sansans’ capable handheld lensing and Melissa Kent’s clean cutting bolster both the surprisingly effective hostage-thriller set pieces and the more claustrophobic back-and-forth inside Smith’s apartment, which itself is well crafted by production designer Sandra Cabriada.

The most moving sequences in “Captive” wouldn’t feel out of place in any secular humanist drama, but the jarring end credits — which include a clip of Smith and Warren’s joint appearance on “Oprah” and an ear-splitting rendition of Bob Dylan’s “Pressing On” by “20 Feet From Stardom’s” Judith Hill — feel designed to send auds lured by the “Purpose Driven” connection out of theaters with a more divine takeaway.

Film Review: 'Captive'

Reviewed at Paramount Studios, Los Angeles, Sept. 9, 2015. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 97 MIN.

Production: A Paramount release of a BN Films, Brightside Entertainment, 1019 Entertainment, Yoruba Saxon, Itaca Films production. Produced by Terry Botwick, Jerry Jameson, Lucas Akoskin, Alex Garcia, Katerina Wolfe, David Oyelowo, Ken Wales. Executive producers, Santiago Garcia Galvan, Jonathan Gray, Brian Bird, Elliot Lester, Ralph Winter. Co­-producer, Matthew Spiegel.

Crew: Directed by Jerry Jameson. Screenplay, Brian Bird, based on the book “Unlikely Angel” by Ashley Smith and Stacy Mattingly. Camera (color, HD), Luis Sansans; editor, Melissa Kent; music, Lorne Balfe; music supervisor, Lynn Fainchtein; production designer, Sandra Cabriada; set decorator, Barb Livingston; costume designer, Cameron Doyle; sound (Dolby Digital), Mason Donnahoe; re-recording mixer, Jaime Baksht; visual effects supervisor, Raul Prado; visual effects, Flipbook Studio; stunt coordinator, Dino Muccio; associate producer, Rene Bastian, Linda Moran, Adam Folk; assistant director, Adrian Grunberg; casting, Mike Fenton, Ann Frederick.

With: David Oyelowo, Kate Mara, Michael Kenneth Williams, Leonor Varela, Mimi Rogers, Jessica Oyelowo.

More Film

  • Kajillionaire

    'Kajillionaire': Film Review

    The world is a weird place. Miranda July knows that, but the rest of us sometimes forget. Or maybe we just don’t want to admit how bizarre it is that society more or less agrees that back rubs and hot tubs and flavored chips and McRibs are an appropriate reward for a bazillion years of [...]

  • Stellan Skarsgard

    Göteborg Listens to Stellan according to Skarsgård

    GÖTEBORG, Sweden — Laughs were aplenty at the Stora Theatern, where Göteborg Film Festival artistic director Jonas Holmberg welcomed the recipient of the Nordic Honorary Dragon Award, fresh off his Golden Globe win for HBO’s “Chernobyl”. “It wasn’t planned. I thought that will be my only award this year, that’s why I said yes!” – joked Skarsgård, [...]

  • Promising Young Woman

    'Promising Young Woman': Film Review

    Given that the entertainment industry is pretty much the center of the #MeToo universe in terms of generating its most public effects — and, needless to say, causes — probably no Sundance film this year will be as hot a conversation topic as “Promising Young Woman.” Emerald Fennell’s first directorial feature is a female revenge [...]

  • Little Women Movie

    'Little Women,' 'Fleabag' Win USC Scripter Awards

    Greta Gerwig’s script for “Little Women” has won the USC Libraries Scripter Award for best movie adaptation and “Fleabag” has taken the television award. The winners were announced Saturday night at USC’s Edward L. Doheny Jr. Memorial Library. “Little Women” topped “Dark Waters,” “The Irishman,” “Jojo Rabbit,” and “The Two Popes.” All but environmental drama [...]

  • Four Good Days

    'Four Good Days': Film Review

    Addiction, you could say (and I would), has become the central demon that plagues Americans. We’re addicted to everything: alcohol, illegal drugs, pharmaceutical drugs, psychotropic drugs, sugar-bomb soft drinks, processed food, video screens…you name it. In theory, addiction was made for drama, because it rips up the fabric of people’s lives, and that’s intensely dramatic. [...]

  • Netflix backed animated films “Klaus,” left,

    'Klaus,' 'I Lost My Body' Top 47th Annie Awards as Netflix Dominates

    Netflix dominated the 47th Annie Awards on Saturday, Jan. 25, picking up 19 trophies, including the top prizes of best feature (“Klaus”), best feature-independent (“I Lost My Body”), best TV/media production for preschool children (“Ask the Storybots”) and best general audience TV/media production (“BoJack Horseman”). Disney TV Animation’s “Disney Mickey Mouse” won best TV/media production [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content