The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan



Faith-based films have made a sizable impact at the box office in recent years. Many of them star unknowns or actors who are not exactly at the height of their fame anymore. However, many critics (myself included) have speculated that they would eventually attract bigger names. Captive is one of the first examples of this taking place. The movie is being released on the heels of David Oyelowo's acclaim for last year's Selma. His co-star is Kate Mara, recently seen in Fantastic Four and on House of Cards. These are two actors whose stars are still rising, and it is through their talents plus a pretty fascinating true story that Captive ranks as one of the better films of its type.

Mara plays Ashley Smith, a single mother who has lost custody of her young daughter thanks to a meth addiction. She attends Narcotics Anonymous meetings because she has to, but her heart isn't in it. Ashley is lost and confused. A new apartment is supposed to help get her on the right track, but while she's unpacking one night, an escaped convict named Brian Nichols (Oyelowo) forces his way in. Brian is on the lam after brutally attacking a guard, then shooting the judge who sentenced him to a long prison stay, along with several others. He needs a place to hide until he can figure out his next move. While a no-nonsense cop (Michael K. Williams) leads a manhunt for him, Brian finds himself unexpectedly identifying with Ashley's plight. Both are emotionally damaged. During a long, tense evening, she pulls out a copy of Pastor Rick Warren's book The Purpose-Driven Life that someone gave her and begins reading aloud. The ideas contained in the book end up having a transformative effect on both their lives.

Based on Ashley Smith's memoir Unlikely Angel, Captive is a fairly routine thriller in terms of plot. Brian takes Ashley hostage, there's a lot of question about whether he'll hurt her or whether she'll try to escape, and so on. The stakes honestly aren't that high, since anyone going into the film probably already knows that it's a story of redemption. It would be dishonest to say that Captive ever generates the kind of stakes that something like Michael Haneke's Funny Games did. (That's admittedly an extreme example.) Director Jerry Jameson emphasizes the tension only as much as needed to segue into the story's theme, which is the really notable part anyway. Additionally, scenes involving the cop play a little stiffly, like something you'd see in a Lifetime TV movie.

What makes Captive work, though, is the quality of the performances. David Oyelowo studiously avoids all the cliches of a character like Brian. We witness him do very bad things, yet the actor shows us that the man is not a monster. There is a sensitive person buried beneath some combination of mental health issues, lack of opportunity, and deep-seated anger. To Oyelowo's great credit, we care about Brian, even though he's a killer. While he's the nominal star, it's really Kate Mara who owns Captive. She, too, avoids cliche, allowing Ashley to become neither a stereotypical druggie nor a figure of pity. Even better, she anchors the film by showing, with subtle precision, how Ashley can't figure her life out until she's taken hostage and reads the book, at which time she achieves significant clarity. Her priorities suddenly come into focus, and she realizes what she needs to do in order to get herself back on track. The story's theme works because Mara so effectively captures that dynamic. Jameson makes an interesting directorial choice to accentuate her new-found self-understanding. During a key moment between them, Ashley (who now sees more clearly) is photographed in sharp focus, while Brian (who is pondering the confused choices that led to his fate) is seen mostly out of focus.

Captive is a faith-based film, but it's a softer sell than something like War Room. There are some scenes of Ashley and Brian reading The Purpose-Driven Life, as well as a moment of desperation in which she briefly asks God for help. That's about it. Unlike many faith-based films, nobody stops to launch into an impromptu sermon. The movie puts the idea of spiritual redemption on the table and leaves it there, as opposed to hammering it into the audience's head. Oyelowo and Mara fill in the gaps, expertly showing how the passages Ashley and Brian read affect them.

In the end, Captive may be too mild for viewers who want a fire-and-brimstone message. Those looking for something that's thoughtful and meaningful, but not overly didactic, should find plenty to chew on. One of the passages the characters read says that the only thing worse than death is a life without purpose. Oyelowo and Mara keep Captive focused on that idea, resulting in a humane film that recognizes the powerful role faith can play when you don't know where to turn.

( out of four)

Captive is rated PG-13 for mature thematic elements involving violence and substance abuse. The running time is 1 hour and 37 minutes.

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