Captive, The (2014): Egoyan’s Disappointing Thriller

What has happened to the Atom Egoyan that we have all liked in the 1990s? The director of such masterful personal movies as “The Adjuster,” “Exotica” and “The Sweet Hereafter”?

The press screening this morning of his latest, the_captive_poster“The Captive” (aka “Captives”)which receives its world premiere at the Cannes Film Fest, was greeted with boos. likely to get some of the worst reviews Egoyan had received in his entire career.

Ironically, news of the film’s acquisition by U.S. distributor A24 was announced shortly before its first press showing.

Over the past decade, Egoyan has become an auteur in the worst sense of the term, repeating (or rather rehashing) ideas, themes, motifs, and stylistic devices that have marked his best features, such as intergenerational strife between parents and children, the negative role of technology in ordinary modern life, the fine line between human curiosity and dangerous voyeurism, the prevalence of ambivalent feelings of guilt and sorrow in shaping our fragile identities.

Egoyan bears the dubious distinction of having two bad movies in the marketplace: The Captive as well as “The Devil’s Know,” which played at the Toronto Film Fest last year, but is just now getting theatrical release in the U.S.

The story of this thriller is so preposterous and unconvincing that you feel sorrow for the high-caliber of acting talent involved. For his leads, Egoyan has chosen two likeable stars, the handsome Ryan Reynolds and Mireille Enos, and it would be unfair to blame the thespians for the shortcomings of the movie.

Set in Northern Ontario, the tale begins with the kidnapping of a young girl, Cass (Peyton Kennedy), when her father Matthew (Reynolds, miscast) innocently leaves her for a few minutes in his pickup truck while buying a cake.

The loss has had a terrible impact on his marriage: Wife Tina (Enos), has never forgiven Matthew for being responsible for their daughter’s abduction, even if he has not given hope that Cass may be alive. Indeed, it turns out that what we are observing is more than just a case of parental neglect, as Tina was being stalked by a pedophile ring.

Cut to eight years later, when Cass (now played by Alexia Fast) is alive, kept captive by a creepy guy named Mika (Kevin Durand). Uncharacteristic of Egoyan’s usual attention to detail, we never know what the relationship between the captor and his captive involved, though we assume that it was based on sexual abuse and perhaps even a measure of Stockholm syndrome. Cass, who now works in a hotel, seems to have accepted her fate, but again, we don’t see the circumstances of this long-lasting troubled and troubling relationship.

Meanwhile, Mika seems more excited by using his sophisticated technology (hidden cameras included) to sadistically spy on the grieving parents and Tina than in engaging in a more overtly perverse sexuality.

Enter a couple of detective-lovers, Jeffrey and Nicole (played by Scott Speedman and Rosario Dawson) of detectives (and lovers) whose specialty is to investigate crimes committed against children. They, too, suffer from a traumatic past that has shaped their identities and professional lives. While Nicole meets Tina regularly for counseling therapy, Jeffrey begins to suspect that Matthew might have sold his daughter into slavery. But why?

David Fraser’s screenplay is both contrived and arbitrary, and Egoyan, trying to elevate the essentially sleazy B-level thriller to a higher artistic niveau, only manages to show the gap between the banal storytelling and the more polished and subtler filmmaking as far as production values are concerned.

In a year of an extremely strong line-up in Cannes Fest’s Main Competition, “The Captive” is one of the weakest entries.

End Note

In earlier press releases. the film was titled Captives, not The Captive.