Tuesday, September 19, 2017

A24 A-to-Z: #12. "The Captive" (2014)

Ryan Reynolds in The Captive
In case you didn't know, A24 is one of the great purveyors of modern cinema. Since 2013, the studio has found a way to innovate independent cinema by turning each release into an event. As a result, A24 A-to-Z will be an ongoing series that looks at every release from the studio by analyzing its production history, release, criticisms, and any awards attention that it might've received. Join me on a quest to explore the modern heroes of cinema by exploring every hit and miss that comes with that magnificent logo. They may not all be great, but they more than make A24 what it is and what it will hopefully continue to be for ears to come.

The Captive
Released: September 5, 2014
Release Number: 12
Directed By: Atom Egoyan
Written By: Atom Egoyan & David Fraser (Screenplay), Atom Egoyan (Story)
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Scott Speedman, Rosario Dawson
Plot: Eight years after the disappearance of Cassandra, some disturbing incidents seem to indicate that she's still alive. Police, parents and Cassandra herself, will try to unravel the mystery of her disappearance.

The sophomore class for A24 had a lot to live up to, and it didn't look like things were getting much better by The Captive. Following the middling box office of The Rover and Life After Beth, The Captive seemed like a smart movie. It featured two time Oscar nominee Atom Egoyan (Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay, The Sweet Hereafter) and Ryan Reynolds in the lead role. While the film's biggest fault was being forgettable, it was another film that followed the A24 aesthetic without the A24 success. There were great artists challenging themselves, but not all films could be big hits. As is the case with this film, it was a continuing sign of distress for a studio whose glory days were both behind and ahead of them. 2014 remains a blip on their radar, and it's fascinating to see why.

Egoyan was an established filmmaker who had early success with Exotica, which won the Firpresci Prize at Cannes. His biggest hit would come three years later with Grand Jury Prize winner The Sweet Hereafter. However, things were starting to turn by the time that The Captive was in production. His previous two films, Chloe and Devil's Knot, were considered to be subpar work from the director. Much like Devil's Knot, Egoyan found inspiration from his Armenian roots and the belief that his story was never finished; it was always being brought up and discussed. In this case, he became fascinated by illegal trafficking of children online, notably in the Cornwall Pedophile Ring. While the film is not an adaptation of those events, he borrows a lot of details to enhance his story.

One of the true ironies of the film was that it came out almost a year after Prisoners: another film about child abduction. While Egoyan has claimed to like the movie, The Captive is not inspired at all by Denis Villeneuve's bigger hit. In fact, Egoyan had been writing it for seven years before finally releasing it. His story split between the police and the captor who, at least for the audience, was never a mystery. It wasn't until a friend suggested that he make it more of a genre picture that things began to click. By making it a crime thriller, he was able to make the themes more accessible. He shot the film in Ontario, Canada in large part because he was attracted to the virginal landscape covered in snow. He also believed that there was something enticing about seeing the world through "lairs" since it was too cold to go outside.

Among his central cast was Ryan Reynolds, who he felt would add levity to the film after seeing Buried and The Nines. He also needed to be an actor of complexity, as he needed to be sympathetic even as terrible lies were lobbied onto him. He also worked on a low budget, so the actors had to sacrifice salaries. Egoyan also worked with actors from his previous films, including Mireille Enois and Scott Speedman. Rosario Dawson was chosen as the police officer because Egoyan believed that she had a conviction about her that made her a convincing force for this cause.  Because the subject matter was dark, there was constant humor behind the scenes meant to cut the tension. Egoyan believed that this was effective, citing that police officers usually quite these trafficking rings after a few years because of how dark and disturbing they got. Considering that the story took place over eight years, the feel had to be more weary and distressful.

Much like some of his previous films, it had its premiere at Cannes. Given the failure of Chloe and Devil's Knot, many believed that this could be his comeback work. With anticipations high, A24 bought the film in partnership with DirecTV before it premiered. Despite being nominated for the Palme d'Or, the film quickly gained a notoriety and was booed at the festival. Egoyan, who was no stranger to heavy criticism, expressed having some relief that his film was getting a reaction, which was better than not being memorable at all. The film had a limited release, first in Canada before coming to America two months later where it was released on DirecTV. Internationally, the film made $1.07 million with a middling hoard of reviews to back it up.

Another distinct honor that The Captive unfortunately had was being among A24's lowest scores on Rotten Tomatoes. With 30%, it was the second lowest rated after A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III, and the second consecutive "Rotten" movie after Life After Beth's 44%. Jeannette Catsoulis of the New York Times claimed that "The infuriatingly vague and downright strange story banishes the haunting delicacy of mood that Mr. Egoyan has conjured so successfully in the past." Peter Labuza would claim that "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 than The Captive, a subpar Law & Order episode at best." Among the more positive reviews was Scout Tafoya of RogerEbert . com with "The Captive may appear to bite off a little more than it can chew but it's one of the most satisfyingly baroque thrillers of the year, and thanks to a perfectly judged performance by Ryan Reynolds, it's quietly heartbreaking, too." At best, people praised Ryan Reynolds. At worst, it was a boring and hacky crime thriller that got compared too often to Prisoners. If there was one positive in all of this, The Captive was 6% higher on Rotten Tomatoes than Devil's Knot.

Even if A24 would become the studio that could in 2015, the year 2014 proved to be difficult as the studio progressed from its art house niche to something more diverse. Even with a great Reynolds performance, it wasn't enough to make The Captive a compelling, successful movie. It was also part of a string of second-tier movies that have largely been forgotten in the few years since their release. How will A24 bounce out of it? The answer could come in their next film that featured a controversial filmmaker who made the first movie based off of a podcast. It may have been just as divisive, but it was evidence of how much the studio trusted auteurs to make whatever crazy movie they wanted, with or without a Frankensteined man/walrus thing, in director Kevin Smith's second horror film Tusk.

Up Next: Tusk (2014)

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