What would you do if you found yourself being held hostage by a known murderer? Run. Hide. Fight. These are three of the top ideas that come to my mind. But let me back up and rephrase my original question. Of all the things you could possibly do, would you ever think to read to the convict in an attempt to escape? More specifically, would you read “The Purpose Driven Life," Rick Warren's best-selling, inspirational book to the man? I don’t even think Rick Warren himself would think to do that if held at gunpoint.
Real life, however, is very often stranger than fiction. Unfortunately, for “Captive,” even a bizarre true-story about a recovering meth-addict who is taken hostage by a runaway prisoner is unable to illicit even a modicum of captivating drama.
Let us turn back the clock 2005. On March 1st of that year, Atlanta convict Brian Nichols (played by David Oyelowo) was in the process of being escorted from jail to the Fulton County Courthouse where he was set to go on trial for assault, kidnapping and rape. But Nichols was able to escape his day in court by overpowering the guard transporting him and escaping into the crowded metropolitan area.
Nichols subsequently spent the better part of two days hijacking several vehicles as he made his way from the city center to the suburbs. Once there, he abducted Ashley Smith (Kate Mara) on the street and forced her at gunpoint to take him home with her.
Earlier on, the audience is introduced to Ashley, so it is no surprise that her role in the film goes beyond just being a recovering drug addict. We soon find, however, that Ashley might have the inner strength necessary to not only save herself from captivity, but also change a murderer’s faith in the world in the process.
This last sentence proves to be a lot more aspirational than actual. Despite some pretty solid acting by Oyelowo and Mara, director Jerry Jameson (Last Flight Out) and screenwriter Brian Bird (The Ultimate Life) never really gives a sense of urgency to the story. This results in a drama that lacks much drama.
The reason for this is two-fold. First, 2005 wasn’t that long ago. Sure, a lot of news happens in 10 years, but when Ashley Smith’s story first broke on CNN, it captivated the entire country. It also helped launch an entire faith revival tour that hopped from Oprah, to Dr. Phil to countless news programs all over America. Because Smith’s story is so well known, a film adaptation of her memoir needed to do something original to her story. It needed to find a new hook and give her harrowing tale a unique twist. Bird, however, settles for regurgitating the same story that we have all have heard a thousand times on the news. Jameson’s tepid directing style does not add any cinematic swagger either.
In short, everything feels a little flat.
Adding to the negative column, neither Bird nor Jameson ever raise the inner stakes in Smith and Nichols’s claustrophobic relationship with one another. In fact, Nichols is portrayed as being the nicest captor of all time. He eats with Ashley. Opens up to her. He even watches TV with the woman. It’s truly strange how tame Oyelowo makes Nichols seem, especially after such a horrific, psychotic turn in last year’s “Nightingale.”
Other than a halfhearted side-story between the two cops trying to hunt Nichols down, the bulk of the narrative revolves around captor and hostage. As such, Mara and Oyelowo do show a lot of chemistry. Yet it’s the wrong type of chemistry for the movie.
Maybe in the future the pair should play opposite leads in a romantic comedy. That’s a movie I’d go see. “Captive,” however, is a faith-based film that looses its narrative faith from the get-go.
By David Morris
Running Time: 97 min
Rated PG-13 for mature thematic elements involving violence and substance abuse