A story out of Atlanta made national news in 2005, when escaped convict Brian Nichols surrendered after a standoff at the apartment of a woman named Ashley Smith. The initial reports said that Smith had persuaded Nichols to give himself up by reading aloud portions of The Purpose Driven Life by megachurch pastor Rick Warren. But in a twist that somewhat negated the purely spiritual narrative, it was later revealed that Smith had also offered Nichols methamphetamine from her personal stash, which he snorted while she watched.
Captive, the lowest-common-denominator movie version of these events, starring David Oyelowo as Nichols and Kate Mara as Smith, doesn’t skimp on the icky drug details. That’s perhaps the one commendable thing that could be said about the film—though sticking to the facts of a true case isn’t really a compliment. The thin story has been stretched like Silly Putty to feature-film length and the result is utterly see-through in its sledgehammer moralizing. By the end, it’s hardly surprising that the movie climaxes with an extended clip of Oprah Winfrey (from a 2006 episode of her talk show) telling the real-life Ashley Smith, “Jesus loves you, girl,” right before introducing Rick Warren to howls from the studio audience.
Inexplicably, though, Warren’s popular book is given short shrift in the movie’s big scene, the one in which Smith reads a chapter of it to Nichols in his mush-brained meth descent. The scene even pulls an audio dissolve to suggest the passage of time while she’s reading. But the words themselves are exactly the minutia that the unabashedly faith-based film should be drilling deep into. Instead we get inept cutaways to the police, led by the hilariously miscast Michael K. Williams of The Wire, trying his damnedest Tommy Lee Jones in The Fugitive impression. Venting some of his anger, he even knocks over a vending machine.
The movie was directed by Jerry Jameson, veteran of TV shows like Walker, Texas Ranger, and it contains whopper spatial mistakes, like an early scene in which Nichols shows up at the backdoor of his ex-girlfriend’s house to peek in the window at their child. He notices the police arrive and within seconds he’s in the neighbors’ bushes across the street, a flash of relocation that one hopes is only unintentionally supernatural. Skip the inept filmmaking and dodgy sermonizing of Captive and instead stream or rent 2012’s Compliance, also a by-the-minute real-life account that features intense one-on-one conversations in confined spaces. See that film and realize that the dramatization of a news item can be challenging and dangerous and idiosyncratic and provoke stimulating questions about the world we live in. Instead of, as in Captive, insipidly answering them. D