June 5, 2020

Cannes Film Review – The Captive: Atom Egoyan’s unpleasant paedophile thriller

If you like watching films but are always thinking if only the music would jarringly tell me what I'm supposed to be feeling then consider a trip to see The Captive. Or Captives as it is called in French, with no reason given for the subtle name change. The new thriller from Atom Egoyan has been fitted with a soundtrack that helpfully points out the tense moments and the scary bits. Very handy if you've lost all sense of feeling, but if your medication still allows you to feel emotion then it will quickly become too much.

Snowy Canada is the setting for the sad tale of the broken Lane family, a story credited to the director/producer himself. Father Matt (Ryan Reynolds – a daddy not a catholic priest) picks up his young daughter Cass from ice-skating practice and stops off to buy a cherry pie from a roadside diner. On the way to the shop Father and daughter have a long, loving discussion about what sort of pie to get and whether to get ice cream as well. However for reasons to do with otherwise there wouldn't be a film, rather than head into the store to check dad buys the right flavour, Cass stays in the van. When Matt returns she is gone. That's no spoiler as the film starts with him cruising high roads looking at passing girls, hoping to spot his missing daughter.

It gets worse for Matt and his wife Tina very quickly, as the case is taken by a good-cop bad-cop pair played by Rosario Dawson and Scott Speedman For reasons unexplained but hinted to be in his own past, bad-cop Jeffrey immediately takes the view that Matt is guilty, accusing the grieving father of having sold his daughter to paedophiles to pay off debts. An unlikely theory, based on no evidence at all.

With a complicated structure jumping between time, it is quickly revealed that the good-cop in charge of the case has also gone missing. Although eight years have gone by since the original kidnap, in the film it is almost immediate, the actions moving repeatedly and unobviously between pre and post kidnap periods. The structure's complexity appears to try and disguise the fact that if the film played out in order it would be underwhelming.

The subject matter is obviously horrendous. Of course film makers should investigate all parts of life, but Egoyam has actively decided to make entertainment from the disappearance and eight year imprisonment of a young girl. What he was hoping to achieve is unclear. Bringing attention to such horrific stories is hardly necessary. To try and make it the basis of a thriller seems unpleasant.

The Captive is a film where everything and almost everyone is interconnected. As everything is shown early on in the many flashbacks, it gives nothing away to say that kidnapping the girl was not enough for this paedophile ring. It has also – for reasons unclear – been watching the mother for eight years by the unnecessarily difficult method of spying on the hotel rooms she cleans.

The plot has difficulties. None of the secret cameras have been spotted in all that time. A mystery woman swapping drinks is enough to cause havoc. When one of the ring is arrested we are to believe that whilst in prison he can speak openly to a visiting accomplice without their conversation being heard.

If you want to spend time cracking a paedophile ring then here's your film. If you're grateful for the work of the police but see no reason to go into their offices and read their case notes then there are other films to root for in this year's Palme D'Or competition.


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