Film review: Faith in a dark place
Directed by Jerry Jameson
Certificate 12A, 196 minutes
Released on Friday 25 September 2015
Before its dramatisation of the real events that took place in Atlanta, Georgia on 11 March 2005, Captive opens with a text from the Bible: Romans 5:20. “Typical Christian film,” I thought. “They’re now going to preach to me.” But the next 15 minutes proceed in silence from the protagonist – Brian Nichols (the accomplished British actor, David Oyelowo). Nichols is a muscular former American footballer, who escapes custody at Fulton County Courthouse, killing four people in the process. A large-scale hunt for him ensues, during which time Nichols takes a recovering drug addict hostage for seven hours. Now the stage is set for a typical cop-catches-bad-guy Hollywood thriller – but again my expectation was overturned as the film focuses not on the hunt, but on what happened during those fraught seven hours in which Ashley Smith (Kate Mara) is detained. Quietly and thought-provokingly, the film shines a light on how faith and determination can be found in even the darkest of situations.
One of the film’s turning points is when Nichols holds the recovering addict at gunpoint and asks her to make a life-or-death decision: Take drugs, right now, or be killed. When I met Oyelowo the day before Captive’s UK release, he said: “If I were taken hostage, for seven hours, by this murderer, and told to take meth or I would be killed… I’ve never taken any drugs myself [but] I can’t promise you that I wouldn’t.” What would you or I do in that situation? That’s one of the many questions this film provokes. It doesn’t preach, or make overt judgements, but presents life as it was on that day in 2005, engaging us in the emotions, prejudices and perceptions of various participants.
Sharing centre stage with the film’s two leads is a book: Rick Warren’s famous devotional, The Purpose Driven Life. The book is given to Smith during a recovery group meeting, and, in desperation, she ends up reading sections from the book at random to her captor. The film makes clear that Brian was raised within the Church and hints that Ashley might’ve been too. For this reason, it didn’t seem kitsch that Rick Warren’s words contribute towards calming Brian.
Captive is serious and respectful to its real-life story – it doesn’t glamorise the murders or downplay the fear that Nichols evokes. Oyelowo is captivatingly scary as Nichols, yet relatable at times. Mara gives a convincing performance as a conflicted and heroic addict too.
At the end, the film respectfully commemorates the lives of those who were murdered by Nichols. In poorer taste is the long clip shown as the credits roll – Rick Warren and Ashley Smith being interviewed by Oprah. I was also disappointed by the lacklustre role given to the team of cops chasing Nichols – which is made all the more pronounced by the lead detective being Michael K Williams of The Wire.
I’d have liked to have seen more of Ashley Smith’s six-year-old daughter, Paige, who is given a poignant scene running towards her mother at the end, but is otherwise a prop for advertising Ashley as a dedicated mother. The film does such a good job of illuminating different perspectives, a few child’s-eye-view shots, giving voice to how she would perceive these events would have been the icing on the cake for me. All in all though, this is not your average Christian film, and all the better for that.
Charissa King works for Reform magazine. A fuller version of an interview with David Oyelowo will be published in the November 2015 edition. For resources relating to this film, visit www.ethosmedia.org/captive