THE CAPTIVE. Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Mireille Enos, Scott Speedman, Rosario Dawson, Peyton Kennedy, Alexia Fast, and Kevin Durand. Directed by Atom Egoyan. Rated MA 15+. Restricted. (Strong themes). 111min.
This psychologically intense Canadian thriller film competed for the Palme d'Or at the 2014 Cannes film Festival. It is directed by one of Canada's top film directors, Armenian-born, Atom Egoyan, who directed the superb "Exotica" (1994) and "The Sweet Hereafter" 1997).
The movie is about the abduction of a young girl, Cassandra (played at different ages by Peyton Kennedy and Alexia Fast), who was kidnapped eight years previously from the back of her father's truck while he stopped at a diner to buy a cherry pie. Her disappearance eats into the relationship between Matthew (Ryan Reynolds), Cassandra's father, and Tina (Mireille Enos), her mother. Tina blames Matthew for allowing the abduction to happen.
No one knew why Cassandra was taken, or where she was taken. Eight years later, Matthew is still under suspicion for her disappearance, and is suspected of child abuse. Scott Speedman and Rosario Dawson are the investigating detectives, who push too insensitively, ignorant of the devious nature of the person who took her. With the authorities still looking, clues start appearing, suggesting that Cassandra might not be dead.
This is not a film that develops its case against the captor slowly. Within the first four minutes of the film you know who the villain (Kevin Durand) is, and that it is not Matthew. The movie merges present and past stealthily and craftily, and draws its main tensions from the difficulties in relationships that the characters experience with each other. The major tensions in the movie that Egoyan develops are relational, not criminal. Cassandra's abduction has resulted in a failed marriage, has caused a fractured relationship between parents and their child, and is linking the investigating officers to a tortured past.
The film asks the viewer to put a jig-saw together which is not in the order it should be. When driving along the snow-bound roads, Matthew looks for young girls in case one of them might be his daughter, and the person who abducted Cassandra starts leaving clues for her mother to find. On a video organised and controlled by her captor, Cassandra watches her mother finding the clues, while her captor looks on. The film delves not only into the nature of abuse, but starts to dissect the dependence that it can establish.
Reminiscent of "The Sweet Hereafter" (which in its own way is a movie about the risks that children take), and typical of an Egoyan film, the cinematography is hauntingly atmospheric. The Ontario winter is painted as cold and forbidding, preparing the viewer for the darkness that lies ahead. The film grabs hold of the emotions of the viewer, rather than concerns itself pointedly with the subtleties of an intricate plot. Egoyan doesn't worry a great deal about plot consistency or plausibility. Frequently, he goes back in time to show how the plot has worked out before he shows you subsequent scenes that are developing it.The logic of a coherent story-line is not his main concern.
The finish to the movie does not provide an unequivocal solution to the film's emotional tensions. It is almost as if Egoyan wants the final jig-saw puzzle to have some pieces still missing. As with "Exotica", the film communicates the belief that life is made up of relationship ambiguities that are too difficult and too complex to order precisely.
This is a film that has a lot to say about the effect of time on the emotions of loss, sorrow, love and anger. Its thriller components are unusual, often creating shock, and they have to be assessed emotionally rather than cognitively. Unpalatable truths creep up on you in this film, and the movie aims to leave you unsettled. It engages viewers by offering challenges, and it achieves its emotional impact by highlighting apparent contradictions, only some of which are going to be resolved - echoing, Egoyan says, life itself.
This is an absorbing, thoughtful and unsettling film that is crafted by an expert Director.
Peter W. Sheehan is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting
Released December 4, 2014