Often only a light breeze has to blow through a thriller for it to be called wintry – but this movie from the once-celebrated, now patchy Canadian filmmaker Atom Egoyan (‘The Sweet Hereafter’, ‘Chloe’) deserves the label. Yes, ‘The Captive’ is full of snow and ice, winter coats, grey skies and thick boots, but its subject is also as bleak as a 3am February walk along the side of an Ontario highway.
It tells of the aftermath of a kidnapping: a Canadian girl, Cassandra, is snatched from the back seat of a pick-up truck parked outside a roadside diner by her dad Matthew (Ryan Reynolds). Several years later, Matthew and his estranged, fragile wife Tina (Mireille Enos) are still living a waking nightmare, and the cops who first investigated the case, hot-headed Jeffrey (Scott Speedman) and cooler, more empathetic Nicole (Rosario Dawson), find themselves drawn back into the investigation after new evidence emerges. Meanwhile, from the beginning of this moody, maudlin tale, we’re also watching an unpleasant, nervy middle-aged man called Mika (Kevin Durand), who sports a villainous moustache and a poor Brando impression, and who pipes opera through his classy chalet-style home and whose role only becomes clear as time passes.
Egoyan’s direction is compelling, confident and mysterious, playing with our sense of dread and the unknown, only drip-feeding us information for a good chunk of his film. For a long while, we experience various plot strands and time periods in fractured fashion. Egoyan gives us a puzzle and it’s not obvious who’s in the right or wrong, as he toys with our perspective. One early scene – the kidnapping itself – is handled in masterly fashion. The action happens offscreen and we’re left looking elsewhere as Egoyan’s camera glides slowly through the scene to an eerie score.
But beneath the well-tuned atmospherics lurks a schlocky, fairly ludicrous and pretty distasteful yarn that ultimately puts the stress in all the wrong places. Once the fog of mystery clears, what’s left is too often silly and exasperating. Granted, Egoyan is partly aiming for a highly-strung, operatic approach: his film’s first shot is of a diva on a TV screen singing Mozart. Yet there are only so many hysterical, far-fetched plot turns you can accept before deciding that the real human tragedy which the film gives us early on – two parents losing their child – means very little at all when there’s more pulpy fun to be had.