In Atom Egoyan’s new film, The Captive, Ryan Reynolds plays Matt, a landscaper whose wife, Tina (Mireille Enos), works as a maid at a hotel that overlooks the Canadian side of Niagara Falls.
One wintry day, on the way back from picking up his nine-year-old daughter, Cassandra, after skating practice, Matt stops to pick up a pie from a roadside diner.
When he returns to his truck, the girl (Peyton Kennedy) is gone. Years pass and the marriage breaks down, the victim of his guilt and her anger. One day, eight years later, the police find a clue on the Internet that Cassandra is still alive.
There are some things right about The Captive, including Paul Sarossy’s chilly, atmospheric cinematography and Reynolds’s and Enos’s performances as grieving parents struggling to continue their lives after a traumatic loss. But The Captive’s marriage of a creepy operatic fable and a clunky B-movie police procedural never connects.
Initially, the typical Egoyan post-traumatic mosaic of time-shifts and changes in point of view holds some interest, We first meet Matt and Tina long after they have been separated by the trauma of their loss. Tina is keeping in contact with two cops on the pedophile squad of the local police force, Nicole (Rosario Dawson) and Jeffrey (Scott Speedman). And, in another time frame, Jeffrey is conducting another missing-persons investigation involving Bruce Greenwood.
As you would expect from Egoyan, The Captive has ideas to spare. Themes of borders, traps and different forms of morbid fixation rise to the surface. At the plot’s hall-of-mirrors centre, there’s a cult of voyeurs, who aren’t just pedophiles (though they’re that, too), but sadists who use hidden cameras to watch and delight in the pain of the victim’s family. The obvious subtext is that the ring of sickos are stand-ins for a thrill-seeking audience. Mika (Kevin Durand), an opera lover, is a connoisseur of the perverse who directs Cassandra as he records her stories, like a stand-in for the film director.
These are the sort of stratagems no hack director would aspire to, but then, a hack genre director would be much more diligent about making the police procedural story plausible. From the start, Speedman’s anti-child-predator cop shows a lack of professionalism; he should be on the wrong side of the prison bars. (Apparently, Matt reminds him of “someone from my past.”) Nicole is given slightly more background as a former homeless teen turned cop and then glamorous figurehead for a charity to end pedophilia. But the actress’s brash, superficial, TV-cop manner barely connects with the other, angst-ridden performances in the film.
There are repeated clunkers in the cop dialogue (“It’s not a bad idea for a reality show …”), and a preposterous sequence lifted from a spy movie, where a woman in a black pageboy wig slips a drug into someone’s drink at a fancy dress ball. As the improbabilities pile up, interest turns to increasing irritation at this blend of solemnity and off-handedness.
There is one memorably graceful slow-mo aerial shot of a limo moving through the neon-lit city of Niagara Falls that captures a sign saying Movie Time, an acknowledgment to the film’s nightmare logic. But without a thin tether to credibility, this fussy, morbid fantasy simply slides off into the void.