Let me confess – I haven’t seen that many Atom Egoyan films, but allow me to offer you , a fresh perspective on his latest one The Captive, which premiered in Cannes to the world’s press this
crack of dawn morning. It’s a new addition to a long line of child abduction dramas that beset out cinemas throughout the recent years, trailing behind its wake Denis Villeneuve’s grim yet vindictive Prisoners, Marcus Schlesinger’s disturbing Michael, Clint Eastwood’s melodramatic yet affecting Changeling and Ben Affleck’s competent Gone Baby Gone. Egoyan’s work follows roughly the same pattern of every child kidnap movie out there – happy homes suddenly wrecked by the disappearance of an offspring at the corner of the eye – and it sets up the foundations of what could potentially be an intense, intriguing and nerve-flaying depiction of child molesting cases, exploring the psychologies of all those involved – the victim, the abductor, the parents and the police investigators. But that remains wishful thinking because as soon as the child vanishes from the picture, Egoyan ignores every sense of originality, decency and the level of complexity as demonstrated by those aforementioned films from the sub-genre.
The Captive is not howlingly awful – there are moments of fascinating formal control such as the abduction scene, where the camera avoids the actual incident and rather slowly zooms into the window frame of a pie shop, as an increasingly ominous score swells in the background. That was a standout shot, but alas, an oasis to an utterly undisciplined, dry-as-ice storytelling in a film that’s close to being laughable. Egoyan shuffles the narrative pretentiously, giving the film an air of seeming intricacy when in fact, given the lack of consistency and rhythm to its editing, this stylistic choice emerges as nothing more than an affection. Take out the chronological rejig and its conventional bones will be laid bare. Also a testament to Egoyan’s clumsiness is his introduction of the darker themes of paedophilia, child internet porn and Stockholm Syndrome, but he dispatches these all too quickly as soon as we clap our eyes on the main child-snatcher of the piece, the moustachio’d Mika (Kevin Duran lapping all the ham). Because all villains have moustache, get it? One-dimensional and farcical, Mika belongs more to Saturday daytime cartoon shows with the motivations of an evil overlord with a hench-woman, who carries out kidnap missions at the middle of charity balls, poisoning Rosario Dawson’s child porn investigator and driving her off with a limo. Wait – is this in the same movie? You bet.
Then there’s the abducted daughter, whose eight years of existence inside a basement surrounded by CCTV cameras doesn’t improve the proceedings, recording details of her life for no apparent reason, while the parents Ryan Reynolds and Mireille Enos (both giving decent performances, at least) grieve through Egoyan’s nonsensical plotting. There’s an interesting tangent of Reynold’s bristly father Matthew Lane being suspected as the abductor himself, but even this strand is manipulative, as we’re shown with childhood possessions of the kidnapped daughter in hotel rooms where mother Tina works. But that, again, is ignored as Egoyan becomes over-busy trying to pull a Hollywood thriller out of the bag, leaving those significant details unexplained, giving to more contrivances than enlightenment. The result is an unsatisfying, bloated mess that needs some clearing up and a good dose of inspiration. Egoyan, go home and write something better, will you?