(CONTAINS SPOILER ALERTS) Atom Egoyan’s to-catch-a-child-abductor caper “The Captive” was the third competition entry to arrive here. The motif of young ones in distress amid snow-clogged landscapes will no doubt bring to mind the director’s harrowing “The Sweet Hereafter,” which was a big prizewinner here in 1997. Sadly “Captive” does not come close to “Hereafter” in emotional force and restraint. Instead it brings to mind the ultra-schlock of Egoyan’s little-seen NC-17 rated shocker “Where the Truth Lies,” but without the tongue-in-cheek humor that made that lurid film such a guilty pleasure.
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Much of the fault lies with David Fraser’s inconsistency-and-cliché-ridden screenplay, featuring some memorably bad dialogue, and Egoyan’s uneven sense of pacing. The overall murkiness even seems to pervade most of the performances, resulting in the sort of unsettlingly absurdist acting––somewhere between soap opera and Beckett––that is at home in David Lynch’s universe and nowhere else.
Ryan Reynolds (looking hopelessly confused) and Mireille Enos (somewhat better) play Matthew and Tina Lane, a couple living near Niagara Falls whose nine year-old daughter Cassandra is kidnapped one afternoon when Matthew leaves her alone in his pick-up while getting a cake from a highway cafe. For eight years, two detectives (Rosario Dawson and Scott Speedman in thoroughly uninspired performances) search in vain for Cassandra, who they believe has been abducted by a highly sophisticated online child pornography ring.
Now that she’s past pubescence (the older Cass is played by Alexia Fast of “Jack Reaper”), they suspect that her captors are using her to lure new victims into their circle.
The mild-mannered villain (prayed glacially by Kevin Durand, of “Fruitvale Station”), who wears a white turtleneck sweater and has a fondness for the Queen of the Night’s Aria from “The Magic Flute,” seems a composite of serial killer and maniac clichés, including Norman Bates, Buffalo Bill and Terrence Stamp in “The Collector.”
In his isolated lair buried somewhere in a vast expanse of snow, he keeps his victim in a comfortable maximum security cell outfitted with a computer monitor, on which she can watch her grieving parents going about their lives. How he’s managed to install cameras in their home and in the hotel where Tina works remains a mystery.
After a protracted set-up that jerks forward and backwards in time––an exposition device that falsely promises a film of considerable complexity––the film settles into a standard cat-and-mouse pattern. And while Egoyan builds up some very real tension during the middle of the film, the preposterously rushed ending is just one of the terrible directorial choices he commits all over the place.
There are shades of Hitchcock and Polanski here, but far too many red herrings, incredible coincidences and sloppy storytelling––for some reason, Egoyan inserts a flashback on the main detective discovering a clue right after she’s been (SPOILER ALERT) abducted from a charity dinner, (one of the film’s few jokes is that the event, organized by the kidnapper’s ring, is called “Everything For Love” and is raising money, ostensibly, to find missing children). This all adds up to a film that collapses under the weight of its own pretentions––there’s quite a bit of preachiness about protecting our children––and a schematic approach.