Atom Egoyan’s The Captive plays like the overeager idiot brother to the filmmaker’s superior The Sweet Hereafter. Both films share a forbiddingly wintry setting, all the better to draw conspicuous attention to the chilly distances that lie between characters; both feature children in peril (a busload of drowned schoolchildren in the one, a Lolita-esque belle captive in the other); and both employ an ominous, if explicitly subtextual, poem to lend a literary sheen to the proceedings. While The Sweet Hereafter loosely reworks Robert Browning’s The Pied Piper of Hamelin, The Captive needlessly shoehorns in some lines from Mozart’s The Magic Flute, thus (wittingly or not) reinforcing the general perception that cinematic madman must always be more cultured and better read than the average viewer. (Think Hannibal Lecter—hardly the last whiff of The Silence of the Lambs to be discerned here.) For every way that The Sweet Hereafter makes its generic elements seem fresh and even a trifle mysterious, The Captive finds new ways to render them absurd. Egoyan’s latest even throws in a creepy, non-sequitur-spouting Bruce Greenwood just for good measure, hinting at a subplot that may well have been dropped due to sheer pointlessness.
Blue-collar father Matthew Lane (Ryan Reynolds) stops at a local pie shop to pick up dinner for his ice-skater daughter, only to discover upon his return that she’s vanished into the snow-driven thin air. His visit to the local constabulary goes worse than expected when glowering hotshot Detective Cornwall (Scott Speedman), a former murder cop who’s recently transferred into the pedophilia division to further hone his people skills, takes an instant and inexplicable dislike to the distraught dad. (Yet another thread left dangling, since nearly every character, major or minor, seems saddled with a troubled or shadowy past.) Chambermaid wife Tina (Mireille Enos) instantly blames her befuddled husband, kickstarting a journey of mutual recrimination and all-around blame-lobbing. Elsewhere, Kevin Durand brings the Cronenberg weirdness (he was the earpiece-checking bodyguard in Cosmopolis) as the seemingly omnipotent kiddie-porn ringleader, but it’s to absolutely no effect, since Egoyan and David Fraser’s script bends over backward to portray him as the broadest sort of villainous caricature, down to his dandy little mustache—though, admittedly, Durand never gets the chance to give it a twirl.
Not to mention the niggling fact that, in the face of The Sweet Hereafter’s sure-footed feel for tragic desolation, The Captive resolutely doles out not one, but two giddily happy endings—both hug-laden reunions/endurance tests, shot in blandest TV-movie fashion, as though even Egoyan couldn’t care less about such tidy resolution. Though Paul Sarossy’s cinematography is icily evocative, frequent Egoyan collaborator Mychael Danna’s score suffers from what most politely could be described as a paucity of subtlety. On several occasions, its portentous blatting resembles nothing more than a sonic raspberry—and, given the overall pointlessness and bad faith with which practically every aspect of this production has been crafted, that sounds just about right.
The Cannes Film Festival runs from May 14—25.