Kernel Rating (out of 5):
MPAA Rating: PG-13 Length: 97 minutes
Age Appropriate For: 14+. A good amount of violence: an escaped prisoner shoots and kills various people, including a judge and a cop; has been convicted for rape; and variously beats, threatens, and restrains people. Also some language and drug use (snorting crystal meth), and discussions about various crimes and an off-screen death.
‘Captive’ is a different kind of faith-based film, with a more action-filled premise and a subtler Christian message. The film is thought-provoking, but its heavy-handedness makes it drag.
By Roxana Hadadi
The basis of “Captive” is clearly the kind of true story that a film producer saw on “Oprah” and reacted to by thinking, “Oh, this should totally be a movie.” On paper, that thought process seems appropriate for “Captive,” which recounts how a prisoner convicted of rape escaped from custody and took a recovering meth addict hostage, after which Christian teachings came into play. But as a movie, the story drags, even as it delivers interesting insights about the characters’ interpretation of the Christian faith.
Less combative than “War Room” but more action-filled than “90 Minutes in Heaven,” “Captive” retells the 2005 story of Alabama convict Brian Nichols (David Oyelowo, of “Selma”), who when facing 25 years for raping an ex-girlfriend escapes from prison, kills a number of people, and takes single mother and recovering drug addict Ashley Smith (Kate Mara, of “Fantastic Four”) hostage. Based on Smith’s memoir “Unlikely Angel,” the film intersperses Christian teachings throughout and particularly incorporates the book “The Purpose Driven Life” by Rick Warren.
“Captive” starts emotionally devastatingly, with single mother Ashley, having been declared an unfit mother to her young daughter, doing crystal meth before a court-mandated addiction-recovery group. When her group leader asks how long she’s been clean, Ashley stumbles over her initial lie of a month to settle on an updated lie of two days; when her group leader recommends Ashley read “The Purpose Driven Life,” she tosses the book in the trash. “I like it too much,” Ashley says of crystal meth, and although she wants to be reunited with her daughter full time, it’s clear that her aunt is a better guardian of the young girl for the time being.
Then there’s Brian, who starts off his storyline making bad choices, too: beating a jail guard into a coma; killing a judge, court reporter, police officer, and a few other people; and escaping from custody, sparking a manhunt throughout Georgia. Convicted of raping his ex-girlfriend and facing 25 years in prison, Brian snaps when he learns from his lawyer that another woman recently birthed their son; desperate to see the newborn and in denial about his crimes, Brian begins his trail of violence.
When Brian ends up taking Ashley prisoner, things get worse for each of them before they get better. He restrains her and tries to force her to do crystal meth; she considers shooting him and escaping from the apartment. But when Brian spots “The Purpose Driven Life” in Ashley’s possession and they start reading from it, each of them realizes it’s time to reconsider their choices. “It all starts with God,” Ashley reads, and you can guess where the film goes from there.
In terms of amazing true stories, the relationship between Brian and Ashley is certainly remarkable, and Oyelowo and Mara do a good job spanning the sprawling emotional distances between the characters. Mara nicely captures Ashley’s broken-but-rebuilding self-will, and Oyelowo, so persuasive and fiery as Martin Luther King Jr. in “Selma,” brings cool confidence and an effectively chilly-then-spastic temperament to Brian.
But aside from the character development, not much happens in “Captive,” and the film feels tedious because of the extremely slow pacing and lack of plot movement. Most surprising is the brief amount of time Ashley reads “The Purpose Driven Life” to Brian – just enough time for him to eat one plate of pancakes – and that brevity brings the effectiveness of the Christian message into question. Did Brian make his following choices because of the word of God, or because he knew he had no other options? Were those few pages from “The Purpose Driven Life” so impactful that Ashley abandoned drugs, or was she scared straight by Brian, not God?
“Captive” raises those questions, and maybe it never meant to fully answer them. Mara and Oyelowo carry “Captive” with committed performances, and the film is ultimately thought-provoking in its different approach to Christian themes. But its central story isn’t enough for a full-length film, and the viewing experience veers into tediousness because of that.
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