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Captive: Review


Captive: Review. By Sharmin Paynter.

Based on Ashley Smith’s book Unlikely Angel, Jerry Jameson’s 2015 film Captive recounts Smith’s real-life hostage experience. Unfortunately for the two leads, Kate Mara and David Oyelowo (who doubles as a producer), the flatlining plot is more of a promotion vehicle for The Purpose Driven Life – the bible study book that Smith credits for saving her life. 

Mara is convincing as Ashley, a single mother with an ice addiction who’s trying to regain custody of her daughter (Elle Graham as the angelic Paige). She’s attending support group meetings but her commitment is thin. After finding a forgotten stash of ice in her daughter’s music box, she immediately backslides into a binge. At the same time, Brian Nichols (Oyelowo) has fled his rape trial to meet his infant son, who he only learned about days ago.

While driving through Ashley’s neighbourhood he decides to take her hostage until he figures out his next move. On his tail is Michael K Williams (on the right side of the law after his turn as charming Boardwalk Empire gangster, Chalky White) as Detective Lieutenant John Chestnut, who does a great job with the little he’s given. He even manages to bring some nuanced humour to a frustrated bout with a vending machine. 

Meanwhile, the singlet-clad, dirty-haired Ashley is desperate to protect Paige, who is coming over to visit the next morning. She salvages bargaining power with what she has at her disposal: drugs she can distract Brian with, and a copy of The Purpose Driven Life given to her by a support group member.

She uses the latter to persuade Brian that redemption (at least in God’s eyes) is possible. Although Brian claims he isn’t that guy, his bad decisions (shooting his trial judge, a court reporter, a sergeant, and an off-duty ICE Special Agent) suggest he really is (or at least, very recently was) that guy. It’s obvious that Ashley and Brian aren’t great people, but they do show regret at falling short of the parent they each want to be for their children. As daylight approaches, they discuss changing the trajectory of their lives – partly for their children, but mainly for God.  

Jameson employs simple colour motifs for Ashley (whites and pinks) and Brian (blues and browns), with splashes of red to convey a sense of danger between the two – even hinting at a wolf in an innocent girl’s house. But neither of them are completely innocent, nor completely evil. Perhaps for this reason, the film is selective about the number and severity of Brian’s real-life on-the-run crimes. Maybe Jameson wants us to believe, for a moment, in the redemption of a man who takes extreme measures for his son (it worked for Denzel Washington in John Q). Ultimately, in the eyes of the law, the fictional Nichols and the real-life Nichols have both gone too far. But the film is scared to go far enough. 

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