“Aggressively stupid when it’s not downright illogical, it is hard to imagine a film less deserving for a competition slot at this year’s Cannes Film Festival than Atom Egoyan’s The Captive, a subpar Law & Order episode at best.” Peter Labuza takes to the Film Stage: “It’s not that Egoyan shows little flair for the film’s ominous locales in snowy Canada; it’s that it takes its thematic heft, addressing issues of pedophilia, vigilantism, victimization, and the Age of the Internet, as profoundly unique when they’re actually blurry ideas within a muddled plot. Egoyan has some cleverness going on—mostly when it’s not exactly clear what’s going on for a while—but it resolves itself to be resolutely generic and silly.”
In the other corner, Jonathan Romney, writing for Screen Daily: “This quasi-thriller, narratively arranged in the mosaic style of the director’s early pieces such as Exotica and The Adjuster, is his most whole-heartedly Egoyanesque work in some time, following a run of films, most recently Devil’s Knot, in which there was not always a comfortable fit between the material and the director’s’s sensibility. Here, however, Egoyan is visibly at ease both with the themes and with their handling, and in addition is for the first time having fun with the language of the mainstream thriller.”
And The Captive has another champion in the Telegraph‘s Robbie Collin: “This is Egoyan’s best film for a very long time… [H]e needed a hit, and The Captive is a welcome return to the form of The Sweet Hereafter. Its eeriness creeps up on you and taps you on the shoulder, and when you spin around, it’s still behind you.”
“There may have been some sense in which Atom Egoyan intended his new film to be bizarre,” suggests the Guardian‘s Peter Bradshaw. “But surely not bizarrely acted, bizarrely written, bizarrely directed and bizarrely, completely and culpably misjudged?… As a straight procedural, [The Captive] might have worked if Egoyan did not try the audience’s patience and insult their intelligence with how utterly implausible his drama is. But line by line, scene by scene, it is offensively preposterous and crass.”
It’s “a ludicrous abduction thriller that finds a once-great filmmaker slipping into previously unentered realms of self-parody,” agrees Variety‘s Justin Chang. “At the core of the story is the kidnapping of 9-year-old Cass (Peyton Kennedy), who vanished into thin air (quite literally, somewhere in the high-altitude reaches of northern Ontario) when her father, Matthew (Ryan Reynolds), left her in his pickup truck for five minutes to buy a pie…. Eight years on, the teenage Cass (Alexia Fast) is very much alive but not exactly well, sealed away in a vault-like bedroom by the creepy Mika (Kevin Durand, sporting a perv-alert mustache). It’s characteristic of the film’s tastefully tawdry approach that we never fully grasp the nature of the relationship between captor and captive, although we can infer that it includes past sexual abuse and a measure of Stockholm syndrome.”
John Bleasdale for CineVue: “No cliché is left unplundered and the one possible innovation—the extensive use of flashback and different time periods—proves more confusing than anything else.”
Egoyan “renders an already bogus story more preposterous by lathering it in portentous solemnity,” adds David Rooney in the Hollywood Reporter. “The Captive is drowned from its earliest scenes in composer Mychael Danna’s lugubrious score, unsuccessfully attempting to create suspense, atmosphere, or—God forbid—an emotional connection to this gelid account of a horrific crime and the years of family trauma that it sparks.”
“Egoyan is a frustrating filmmaker these days,” sighs Drew McWeeney at HitFix. “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…. 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.”
Updates, 5/17: “I’m now open to the idea that Atom Egoyan, whom I used to cite (back in the 1990s) as my favorite living filmmaker, should be put out to pasture,” declares Mike D’Angelo at the Dissolve.
“Egoyan never seems to get a handle on the highly sensitive material, veering wildly between naturalism and high camp from scene to scene,” writes Vulture‘s Kyle Buchanan.
“Retreading Prisoners territory to an extent that at times makes you wonder if they’re two parts of some sort of Canadian auteur experiment that no one else is in on, what is lost in the transfer,” writes Jessica Kiang at the Playlist, “is any of the [Denis] Villeneuve film’s subtlety or shading, and we are left only with its most lurid, credulity-stretching highlights, with all other textures blasted out to snowy blankness.”
“Like Egoyan’s last Cannes contender, Adoration (2008), it’s a non-linear puzzle that fascinates so long as it’s scattering its pieces, but disappoints once the full picture becomes clear,” finds the AV Club‘s A.A. Dowd. “For some reason, however, I found the inevitable emptiness of the endgame less vexing this time, maybe because Egoyan is clearly operating in genre-movie mode.”
For Time Out‘s Dave Calhoun, “beneath the well-tuned atmospherics lurks a schlocky, fairly ludicrous and pretty distasteful yarn that ultimately puts the stress in all the wrong places.”
“Egoyan is anything but an action director,” writes Barbara Scharres at RogerEbert.com, “and his introduction of elements including a high-speed car chase and gunplay come off as perfunctory and lifeless.”
“Ryan Reynolds seizes yet another opportunity to tackle a darker, contemplative role,” writes Indiewire‘s Eric Kohn, “while Egoyan’s cerebral efforts only serve to underscore the by-the-books melodrama. They only emerge unscathed because The Captive is so forgettable.”
Also at Indiewire, Egoyan tells Nigel M. Smith, “I started my career, thankfully maybe, with a first feature that I’m really proud of, that got some really dismissive reviews at the time. I realized I had to have a really thick skin if I wanted to pursue this. You can’t be vulnerable. It’s just the nature of it.”
“Too abstract to work provocatively as genre, and too generic to explore its thesis tying crime to media storytelling, empathy, and exploitation, the film’s saving grace ironically turns out to be its anomalous, over-the-top villain,” writes Notebook editor Daniel Kasman. “Kevin Durand is so grotesquely physically insinuating, pallid, slimily mustached and bizarrely affected that he broadcasts ‘tortuous pervert’ in every frame of the film… His comic book presence rubs against the sincere endeavors of the genre-and-trauma relay players Ryan Reynolds, Mireille Enos, Rosario Dawson and Scott Speedman, all of whose pedestrian roles have the unpleasant effect of making me want to see more of The Captive‘s arch-pedophile.”
“For every way that The Sweet Hereafter makes its generic elements seem fresh and even a trifle mysterious,” writes Budd Wilkins at the House Next Door, “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.”
Update, 5/18: “Egoyan, in his rush to bring things to a neat, satisfactory conclusion, leaves too many loose ends and too many questions unanswered, and his film is consequently relegated to third tier pulp thriller,” finds Adam Woodward at Little White Lies.
Updates, 5/19: “The Captive recapitulates the arc of Egoyan’s career: early promise, followed by arrant misfires,” quips Time‘s Richard Corliss.
“While, in many respects, The Captive represents a return to form for the Toronto-based Cannes mainstay, the ‘losing’ streak, sadly, goes on,” adds Blake Williams at Ioncinema.
“The actors are all good, especially Reynolds and Speedman,” writes Wesley Morris at Grantland. “They’re Canadian, and I think Egoyan more or less speaks their language. They’ve never been better. There are enough red herrings for a sandwich, too. But Egoyan keeps trying to appeal to some higher, better principle of this kind of movie. The pseudo-intellectual gist here tries to articulate the difference between a trick and a gimmick. It comes up once before the abduction and again during one of the movie’s climaxes, but it all amounts to a cheap flourish, like popping your collar or wearing your sunglasses on your head at dinner.”
Update, 5/21: “The Captive feels like an unintentional parody of those earlier Egoyan films, bringing back many of the same themes and tropes for a central idea that isn’t just silly, it’s offensive,” writes Alison Willmore at Buzzfeed.