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Imprisoned people

02 October 2015

Stephen Brown reviews Captive

Evan Klanfer © 2015 Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved

Captor: David Oyelowo as Brian Nichols in Captive (Paramount)

Captor: David Oyelowo as Brian Nichols in Captive (Paramount)

“IT ALL starts with God.” So begins a series of quotations from Rick Warren’s bestseller The Purpose Driven Life, read out by a terrified hostage in Captive (Cert. 12A), writes Stephen Brown. The film is based on the true story of Ashley Smith, who, in 2005, was held prisoner in her Georgia apartment by Brian Nichols.

Ashley (played here by the House of Cards star Kate Mara) is a young widow battling substance abuse. Brian (David Oyelowo) who was being tried for serious offences shoots his way out of Fulton County courthouse, Atlanta. In the course of his escape, he kills several people before happening upon Ashley.

The rest of the film concentrates on these two broken people trying to reassess their lives. We’ve already seen Ashley at a group counselling session, struggling to overcome her long-term addiction. It emerges that this need for drugs had led to her husband’s being killed. The only clue we are given to why Brian, a former college student, has ended up such a disturbed and violent individual is that his father was a mean drunk who went to church every Sunday. The way the film plays it, neither of these characters has any obvious religious affiliation.

We know in real life that far from Pastor Warren’s book being pretty much forced on Ashley by her counsellor, she already owned a copy. From a dramatic point of view, though, it suits the film for captor and captive to be pondering simultaneously its relevance to their respective situations.

The trouble is that their interactions have little depth to them. After David Oyelowo’s sterling performance as Martin Luther King in Selma,this is somewhat disappointing. We might have hoped that, as one of Captive’s executive producers, he could haveensured a better script.Considering that Oyelowo is a deeply committed Christian himself, the screenplay offers only tantalising glimpses of the part faith played in the actual relationship between these needy people.

Much of the picture resembles a theatrical two-hander. On stage, the police hunt would be noises off. In the cinema, we get the usual dreary phalanx of whirring helicopters, marksmen, and screaming police cars. This is a thin substitute for a potentially intelligent exploration of God’s purpose for us.

In the film, both characters are in extremis, yearning, as Nietzsche (long before Warren) would have put it, for a why to live by. Instead of witnessing a dramatised progression of two imprisoned people moving towards spiritual freedom, we have Warren’s book and Reinhold Niebuhr’s prayer read to us. To cap it all, the film ends with a version of Bob Dylan’s “I’m pressing on to the higher calling of my Lord”. If only we had seen more of that; for when, occasionally, the film is good, it’s very good.


On general release.

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