A perennial favorite at the Cannes Film Festival, Atom Egoyan returns this year to the official competition with The Captive, a psychological thriller starring Ryan Reynolds, Kevin Durand, Mireille Enos, Scott Speedman, Rosario Dawson and Bruce Greenwood in a cameo. Despite the beauty of its atmospheric visuals, the movie failed to impress. It was largely panned by the critics at its screening this week, leaving them with mixed feelings, some even booing as the end credits began to roll.
The synopsis sounded promising: Eight years after the disappearance of Cassandra, some disturbing indications pop up in the hotel rooms her mother cleans, indicating she may still be alive. Atom Egoyan was inspired by a real-life story, but stretched his imagination to include the “big brother is watching you” notion. Hit the jump for more.
At the press conference following the screening, the director explained “the original spark” of The Captive: “I’m from the west coast of Canada and there is a very well-known case there of a boy who went missing one day from a park, a park very close to where I live. I know the park, I know where he went missing and I know that the mother just turned her back for a moment. Every time I go back home, I see posters and the parents are still very invested in this. So that story is really at the basis of this and I was trying different approaches. I think what really connected with me was when I thought of these three couples. There’s the couple, the captor and the captive.”
Written by Egoyan and David Fraser, The Captive is Cassandra, a nine-year-old girl who is kidnapped after her father Matthew (Ryan Reynolds almost like you’ve never seen him before) leaves her alone in the car for only a few minutes to buy some pie. His wife (a brooding Mireille Enos) blames him for their daughter’s disappearance. And as he was the last one to have seen Cassandra, he is, of course, a suspect in the case. Desperate and angry, he is riddled with guilt about leaving her in the car and believes the cops are not doing anything to find his daughter, so he sets out to find her himself.
The movie spans over eight years and crawls along the same slow speed as the investigation, continuously jumping the time frame to give a better understanding of the story. It takes a little getting used to – the first twenty minutes are subject to confusion. One minute we see Rosario Dawson’s glamorous character Nicole on a Missing poster, the next she is in her office interviewing the cocky Jeffrey (Scott Speedman) for a job as a detective specializing in child abduction cases.
Dawson’s character hints that she is fearless when it comes to her job because something may have happened to her when she was 14, yet we are left to conjecture. Speedman’s also hints at a backstory but, again, it is never evoked. Whether Egoyan left certain details open to interpretation is doubtless – he admits to wanting to create ambiguity. The scenes continue to seesaw in time throughout the duration of the film. And as the movie progresses the story gradually enters twilight zone territory and juggles platitudes and cliché characters, especially the villain, played by Kevin Durand.
It is evident that Mika is the baddie right from the opening scene. A voyeur who uses hidden cameras to feed on the pain of his victim’s mother, he stands watching a surveillance video of this woman cleaning a hotel room while the Queen of the Night aria from Mozart’s The Magic Flute plays in the background. But it is mostly his “physique” that gives him away as the villain, Egoyan’s way of nudging us, “that’s the bad guy.” Mika is a caricature with his thin mustache a la John Waters, ghostly pale face and predatory smile, as if sex offenders all have a distinct look. Durand looks creepy, to say the least, and admits it was a challenge to play Mika. “I would say that I was terrified, horrified and honored that Atom chose me as a prefect fit for this character. I was pretty scared. I read the Jaycee Dugard story, which scared me even more. And then I read several documents that Atom had passed on to me that kept scaring me… But I thought, what a great challenge and what a journey to take because I was so scared.”
Would Ryan Reynolds have accepted to play such risky character as Mika? Maybe, he claims. “I think Kevin has the most difficult role in this entire film and I don’t know if I would’ve been up to the challenges that Kevin was to be able to do that role. I like to think that I am and would be, and that is a very difficult thing. I’ve read a lot of scripts where I’ve been offered the villain role and, to me, Hollywood tends to stereotype villains. I think that people have different convictions. I like villains that have a real belief system that they stand by. They don’t wake up in the morning and say, ‘I need to hurt somebody.’ They wake up in the mooring…they’re wired differently: ‘I need this’ or ‘I want this’ or ‘I have to have this in order to blank.’ So I think Kevin did a beautiful job in the film of actually underlying this character, and if I may be so bold to say, with some empathy to some degree. Anytime you’re creating a complex character, you’re lairing the character with its own belief system and what Kevin did is beautiful. I don’t know if I would have been up to that challenge. I like to think I would be.”
Reynolds seems genuinely relieved to be able to show his acting chops in something other than a romcom. He even looks grateful when the moderator at the press conference fields a reporter’s question about the failure of the Green Lantern with a blunt “we’re far from Niagara Falls here.” And he’s “a proud blinker.”
“I worked with a director years ago who said, “Don’t blink.” And I said, “What do you mean don’t blink? Can I treat myself to a blink every hour just to exercise the eyeballs? I don’t understand.” And he said, “It betrays vulnerability.” And I just thought, Wow, that right there is grade A shit direction.” A far cry from his experience with Egoyan and admits a film is “a director’s medium.” “[The Captive] came along at a perfect time for me. I just love the idea of immersing myself in another world and having this opportunity to work strictly on character. There is nothing in this film that belied on dragging an audience down by their wallet. It was about telling the story and being part of this story as if you were really getting o immerse yourself in this world. And I just felt privileged to get the chance to be there. The most difficult thing really was unrelated. it was that I dragged my wife [Blake Lively] down from our honeymoon in Africa and landed her in Siberia, Ontario, Canada, where it’s -40 degrees, and into a roadside motel where we stayed for a month. Ironically, she coped with it much better than I did.”
Coping is not something his character in the movie does. And it’s not something we do as the film progresses and the plotline thins out. The investigators inadvertently spot the now-adult Cassandra online on a child-baiting site, alive but still in apparent captivity, attempting to coax another little girl for her captor who is no longer interested in her now that she’s all grown up. And it just becomes more preposterous from there. At one point, the captor sets up a meeting between Cassandra and her dad, yet he never tells his wife that he is going to see their daughter. Curiously, Cassandra appears to adjust her surroundings really well and has a pseudo-normal relationship with her captor. Nothing in her voice or demeanor suggests fear. She spends her days playing music and watching her mother on surveillance cameras on her computer. What Egoyan wants to pass off as ambiguity and subtlety — and I applaud his abstract storytelling — ends up being a labyrinthine mishmash of several plots into one. Egoyan is lost between thriller and auteur film and treads so many topics at the same time — pedophilia, surveillance and voyeurism — that the story stretches to ridicule and incredulity, largely due to poor writing and a dubious handling of the main theme – child sex abuse.
Every scene, during those eight years, is set in the dead of winter, as if the gloomy skies with low clouds are a metaphor for the sinister crime and the white icy blanket covering the landscape is supposed to add texture to a plot bereft of any psychological complexity.
One cannot help comparing it to another child-abduction drama, Prisoners, by fellow Canadian director Denis Villeneuve. But Egoyan’s film lacks its subtlety and fails to draw emotion, and even some of the acting appears wooden at times. Maybe it was because of the freezing weather conditions on location.
Click here for all our Cannes coverage. And here’s a few pictures from The Captive Cannes press conference: