Whatever happened to Canadian film maker Atom Egoyan? During the 1990s, he proved himself to be one of the most exciting directors working anywhere in the world.
After Family Viewing (’87), Speaking Parts (’89) and the criminally overlooked Calendar (’93) he won international acclaim with the brilliantly intricate Exotica in 1994, which was one of the films of the decade.
He followed that up in 1997 with The Sweet Hereafter which was almost as impressive. It won the Grand Jury prize at Cannes and saw Egoyan nominated for an Oscar for Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay.
Felicia’s Journey was something of a misstep in 1999, but he seemed to be back on song again with Ararat in 2002.
So what has happened since? Well, there was an attempt at a relatively big budget film in ’05 with Where The Truth Lies, staring Colin Firth and Kevin Bacon. Which was all right, if somewhat pedestrian.
Then there was Adoration in ’08, which felt strained and effortful. And, again, pedestrian. The “erotic thriller” Chloe followed in ’09, and then in ’13 the unnecessary and bafflingly straight Devil’s Knot.
So The Captive, which was screened last year at Cannes, is very much something of a return to form. Eight years after their daughter is abducted, her parents Ryan Reynolds and Mireille Enos discover evidence that she might still be alive.
All of Egoyan’s usual preoccupations surface. That sense of insidious intrusion that we all feel living in a world where everyone is being watched. And where the nature of an event and the search for truth is somehow warped when that event is seen captured on a screen.
And how the same events appear in a different light and present layers of conflicting truths, when they are viewed at one remove on a screen, as those viewing the events are themselves watched by us, on ours.
Some people have complained that the story stretches credulity. And it certainly would have been a pleasant surprise if the villain hadn’t been so visibly lascivious. The banality of evil is much more interesting and much more credible than the sight of man twiddling his moustache with such theatrical relish. And casting Rosario Dawson as a social worker was always going to be a stretch in any universe.
But the film nonetheless maintains a wonderfully taut sense of tension throughout, and is I fear a much more realistic and better researched portrayal of paedophile rings and their sophisticated network of virtual warrens than many would like to believe.
It’s not hard to understand why it was so completely overlooked at Cannes last year and after its release subsequently, given how far from grace Egoyan has fallen of late. But don’t be fooled by that recent form. The Captive is a tense, intricately woven thriller that delves into the darkest crevices of the human psyche with verve and intelligence.
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