CANNES -- It's hard to know where to start when analyzing what went wrong with a film as preposterous and phony as Atom Egoyan's "The Captive," a kidnapping drama that kicked off the first Friday of this year's Cannes Film Festival.
Egoyan is a frustrating filmmaker these days. In the early part of his career, his work was distinguished by a chilly, clinical style and a fascination with perspective. "Next Of Kin," "Family Viewing," and "Speaking Parts" all displayed enormous promise, and he hit his stride with films like "Exotica" and "The Sweet Hereafter." Lately, though, his films feel half-baked, increasingly distanced from any recognizable human behavior, and with "Devil's Knot," his dramatic take on the story of the West Memphis Three, it felt to me like he'd gone completely off the rails as a storyteller. I couldn't even figure out what point he thought he was making with the material that had already been so thoroughly (and expertly) mined by documentarians.
"The Captive" might sound like a Canadian counterpart to last year's "Prisoners" if you read a bare bones description of it. A child is abducted. Her parents go crazy trying to find her. There's a cop involved who seems even more tortured than the parents. And at the heart of things, there is a fiend playing an ugly game. But the difference in execution of that basic premise is vast, and Egoyan is the loser in this particular comparison. While there is something recognizable in the tone he uses to tell the story, and there are moments that are staged with the precision that used to distinguish his work, I don't believe a second of the story he's telling, and it all feels florid, silly, ill-considered.
Matt (Ryan Reynolds) and his wife Tina (Mireille Enos) are the proud parents of a bright and beautiful ten year old girl. She's training to be an ice skater, and it's apparent that they both dote on her. One afternoon, on the way home from skating practice, Matt pulls off the road to pick up a pie at a small diner. During the five minutes he's inside, his daughter vanishes, plunging them into an eight-year nightmare. They reach out to the police for help, but detectives Nicole (Rosario Dawson) and Jeff (Scott Speedman), who both specialize in kidnapping and the tracking of online pedophile rings, are unable to find any leads that might help find the girl. To complicate things, Tina blames her husband for what happened, and Jeff suspects that Matt may have had something to do with the abduction, essentially accusing the anguished father of selling his daughter to help get himself out of bankruptcy.
Egoyan tells the story using a fractured timeline, and for the first twenty minutes, he doesn't give the audience many clues to help anchor them as he moves backwards and forwards. There are a lot of moving parts to the story Egoyan is telling, and the way he plays with time feels like a gimmick more than a natural function of the narrative he's telling. Right away, he shows us that Cass (Alexia Fast) is alive, kept imprisoned by the so-overtly-creepy-it's-funny Mika (Kevin Durand), part of a sophisticated technological gang that uses Cass to help somehow lure other children to be kidnapped and exploited.
I won't get into the various twists and turns Egoyan throws at the audience, but I will say that each one left me less interested. It is a ridiculous story, and these aren't human beings acting in a way that any of us would recognize. These are chess pieces being moved in a game, and it's so rigged, so mechanical, that I don't believe anything that happens. Durand is like a Batman supervillain, and he overplays the part in a way that makes me wonder why no one would even consider him as a potential scumbag. He's practically twirling his moustache in every scene. There is an elaborate game he plays with Tina, chipping away at her mental stability, that is absurd, the sort of thing that we'd only see in a movie. It is overt villainy, and it simply isn't the way anyone actually behaves. His master scheme makes no sense, and when he is finally confronted with a challenge, he folds so fast that it undermines the credibility (such as it is) of the rest of the film.
I want to take special note of the score by Mychael Danna, who has done some wonderful work over the years. I can name a half-dozen scores of his that I consider perfect companions to their films, rich and emotional work that has genuinely enriched the work of some of our best filmmakers. This, however, is a horrible score. I guess the best thing I can say about it is that it is just as arch and ridiculous as the film itself, but there are places where the score literally obscures key dialogue, and it almost feels like Danna decided to just drown out the insipid things these people are saying. It is bombastic, annoying, and unpleasant, which is a good way to describe the film itself.
Rosario Dawson works hard to make Nicole a compelling character, but she ends up having to play this pathetic woman-in-peril garbage for the final act of the film, trapped in a van, and it seems like a remarkable waste. Mireille Enos was a force of nature in this spring's "Sabotage," ferocious and scary, and watching her play the weepy, angry Tina is just frustrating. Ryan Reynolds glowers well, and I think he may give the one emotionally honest performance in the film. When he realizes that he is being looked at as a possible suspect, the rage and the horror that he conveys is actually sort of moving. But the script handcuffs him, and he has so many stupid scenes to play that his good work is lost. Bruce Greenwood, who couldn't give a bad performance if his life depended on it, shows up in what looks like a favor to Egoyan, and is given absolutely nothing to do.
The film looks fine, and Egoyan's technical collaborators all seem to be doing everything that can to serve his vision. But the sad truth is that Egoyan's vision feels very small and very disconnected from anything true these days. "The Captive" is a movie that feels like a further retreat from whatever gifts once made him a filmmaker worth our attention, and it left me wondering if we'll ever see that guy again.
God help whoever gets stuck distributing this one. Oof.