Cannes: The Captive review

In the beginning, the jumbled structure and queasy atmosphere of Atom Egoyan‘s The Captive might put you in mind of David Lynch’s Mullholland Drive. Egoyan’s execution isn’t as accomplished as Lynch’s, at least not after the very effective opening scenes, but the comparison should at least hint at his ambition.

The Captive‘s structure takes us back and forth in time as we move from sequence to sequence. While the temporal dislocations continue throughout, the amount of unbroken screen time spent in each period becomes longer as the movie progresses. This allows us to piece together the narrative more easily, but there are still several transitions in the later scenes that should knock audiences off balance.

We see the character of Cassandra as both a young girl, played by Peyton Kennedy, and when she is older, played by Alexia Fast. As her story line coalesces, it becomes clear that Cassandra has been kidnapped, and that her parents, Matthew (Ryan Reynolds) and Tina (Mireille Enos) are struggling to deal with the abduction.

It’s the actual scene of Cassandra’s kidnapping that proves to be the film’s strongest. Rather than show her being taken on screen, Egoyan sends his camera on a tracking move through a window and away from the action. Meanwhile, the effective, tonal score builds to a head of unbearable tension. It’s powerful, and a perfect example of the heightened approach that Egoyan has taken throughout.

And so The Captive is not subtle, very often to a fault, but when it works, it’s an unsettling and rather remarkable picture with real spark. Unfortunately, running at this film’s heightened register means that Egoyan’s minor missteps are like huge leaps into a open grave.

One odd choice is particularly hard to understand. Egoyan and cinematographer Paul Sarossy have chosen to shoot almost every scene in deep focus, with absolutely everything in shot crisp and clear at all times. The obvious upside is that we can constantly search the frame, hunting for clues like Matthew and the detectives investigating Cassandra’s kidnapping, but for many, this look is now synonymous with cheap, ‘uncinematic’ television.

As with almost every choice Egoyan has made with The Captive, he just about gets away with it.

The cast also offer a mixture of good and bad. For instance, in one telephone exchange between Enos and Reynolds, we see them each come slowly to the same difficult realisation, and while Enos’ performance conveys a great deal of depth and sadness, Reynolds remains stiff and emotionally un-engaging.

The Captive is a flawed film, for sure, but there’s also plenty to admire, and it really does manage to be effectively unsettling at times. I found myself growing to appreciate its unusual quirks more as the movie went on. This work might not stack up against vintage Egoyan, but he certainly still has the ability to surprise and unnerve.