Director: Atom Egoyan
Stars: Ryan Reynolds, Rosario Dawson
2 (out of 5) Globes
For far longer than one would think considering how distractingly silly it gets, it seems “The Captive” might be Atom Egoyan’s comeback. It’s a familiar feeling. The Canadian auteur lost it like few ever have after “The Sweet Hereafter”; every film he’s released since tends to start well, then gradually falls to depressing pieces. He tries to apply his fragmented, time-jumping and chilly vibe to subjects — like the serial killer film “Felicia’s Journey” and the erotic thriller “Chloe” — that hardly deserved it. More despairingly, even when his shtick was perfect for a project — as in the mystifyingly leaden West Memphis Three film “Devil’s Knot” — he couldn’t rise to the occasion. (His alternately slimy and angry 2005 mystery “Where the Truth Lies,” though, is semi-defensible and periodically near-brilliant.)
Like “Devil’s Knot,” “The Captive” starts like it could be another “The Sweet Hereafter,” albeit a trashy thriller version. Ryan Reynolds plays a Niagara Falls beardo with a truck whose young daughter went missing eight years prior. He’s never given up hope, and with good reason: She’s still alive, trapped in the basement of an opera-loving goofball psycho (Kevin Durant). He’s no ordinary kidnapper: Instead of violating her, he forces her to record monologues, for reasons that aren’t immediately — or really ever — clear. Meanwhile Rosario Dawson plays an investigator who specializes in pedophile cases, but even she’s stumped.
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Egoyan hasn’t lost all of his faculties; in fact, that he’s still skilled in certain areas makes the ultimate weakness of his last several films all the more galling. He remains a master of hushed, sinister spells, and few know how to gradually parcel information out the way Egoyan does. He understands, better than almost anyone, how to command attention by keeping audiences in the dark then turning on specific lights in a specific order. Jumping around time — and here, around a decade-long span, meaning a fair amount of haircut changes — he knows how to confuse us while making us sit upright and pay attention.
But with “The Captive,” the obfuscation seems like mere crassly manipulation — a way to distract from the grade-Z stupidity to come. And it comes earlier than it should. Ideally, given where this is going, we wouldn’t have the whole shebang figured out until the final minutes, leaving only a bad aftertaste. But Egoyan fumbles, and after an hour of time-jumping and grief-studying, all is clear, at which point “The Captive” crumbles spectacularly, turning from a measured, intricate study of grief and loss into an asinie thriller that can’t even deliver the basic goods.
Thrills are not Egoyan’s bag, and that’s never more apparent when he tries to pass himself off as a genre hack. There’s a slapdash kidnapping and a car chase handled so ineptly Egoyan’s 1997 Oscar nomination should be stricken from the books. It’s all building to a juiceless anticlimax, which wouldn’t pass muster even in the world of DTV grindhouse. It’s not that Egoyan has used a dumb plot to get at insightful, haunting ideas; it’s that he chucks the subtext and makes it all about plot, at which point there’s nothing left to do but snicker. The film is a handy encapsulation of Egoyan’s career: a strong start that takes a hairpin turn into the ridiculous. May he one day get “it” back.
Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge