After a daring escape from an Atlanta courthouse holding facility where he shoots and kills a judge, a state police officer and an off duty FBI agent, accused rapist Brian Nichols (David Oyelowo) hides out by taking a woman hostage and demanding to stay in her home. Ashley Smith (Kate Mara), the hostage, is a recovering meth addict who’s desperately trying her best to get her life in order so she can reclaim custody of her young daughter (Elle Graham).
Based in part on a real life 2005 incident, Captive (not to be confused with the similarly titled Atom Egoyan film from last year) comes to the screen in a convoluted way. It’s a Christian, faith-based thriller that’s based on a book written by the real Ashley Smith, and the book was based in part on the teachings contained within Rick Warren’s inspirational self-help book, The Purpose Driven Life, a tome that Smith credits with saving her life in the situation. Working from a script adapted by Touched by an Angel producer and writer Brian Bird and helmed by long-time television director Jerry Jameson, Captive is the latest in a long line of Christian-themed productions simply designed to not only make a buck in the name of the Lord, but also one designed to sell not one but two factually and spiritually suspect books.
To the film’s credit, though, Bird’s script doesn’t rush to get to a laudatory celebration of the power of Warren’s “put the Lord above all else in life and everything will be hunky-dory” message. The first third shows Ashley as an intriguingly flawed protagonist, and Mara does a great job generating sympathy for the woman even at her worst. Meanwhile, Oyelowo finds in Nichols a unique form of psychosis. He’s painfully calm (except for the point where he tweaks out on meth) despite not having a plan to get away. They’re confused people who want to be left alone but are forced together by a rotten twist of fate. The Lord works in mysterious ways, indeed.
Unfortunately, the wheels don’t stay on the bus very long. A subplot involving the police investigation feels ignorantly tacked on, giving beloved character actor Michael Kenneth Williams, playing the lieutenant in charge of a state-wide manhunt for Nichols, nothing more to do than go nuts on a malfunctioning vending machine, and poor Mimi Rogers, as Ashley’s aunt and the guardian of her kid, adds nothing.
But the real killers here are Jameson’s perfunctory direction and the marked downturn once the story has to introduce Warren’s book. It’s integrated in such a ham-fisted way with Mara forced to read random, key passages that don’t even come in order while Oyelowo is forced to listen and nod accordingly. Then when the film reaches a ludicrous conclusion, one where Nichols is made to seem sympathetic in some of the most unearned ways possible, the book is forgotten about again until the film’s credits (which laughably include several unfortunate typos in the closing titles, showing how little the studio cares for the quality of the final product) where the real Smith shows up alongside Warren for an archival interview with Oprah.
It’s admirable to try and make a Christian-tinged potboiler, but the faith isn’t integrated in a way that makes much of any sense. It should be a chip shot to make something about two lost souls finding solace in something other than their less-than-stellar coping mechanisms. The audiences for these kinds of films still deserve better, though.