Filmdom’s re-discovery of the religious audience has led to something of a boom in faith-based films, with titles from “God’s Not Dead” to “Heaven is for Real,” “War Room” and “90 Seconds in Heaven” finding an audience, in some cases, a large one.
Period pieces with big name actors (“Risen,””The Young Messiah”) and big studios behind them are in the works.
But you can’t quite call it a “golden age,” as, for the most part, the films are simplistic sermons, with weak casts often working with dull, tin-eared scripts, middling directors and zero production values. For every “Noble,” there are three “Little Boys” or “Beyond the Masks” or “Old Fashioneds.”
Paramount’s “Captive” is a faith-based thriller built on a couple of very good performances and a real-life hostage situation. It’s got violence and tension, brittle, profanity free dialogue. It’s even Oprah-approved (she turns up in the closing credits).
Strip away the religious elements — it’s basically a weak, no-ending informercial for Pastor Rick Warren’s “The Purpose Filled Life” — and it’s a better-than-average Lifetime Original movie with unusually good players.
Kate Mara (“Shooter” and TV’s “Shooter”) is Ashley, an Atlanta area methhead trying to get clean enough to regain custody of her five year-old daughter. The kid tells her “I’ll say my prayers for you,” even if the aunt (Mimi Rogers) caring for the child is skeptical waitress Ashley will get it together.
Whatever you do, Ashley, don’t miss tomorrow’s Mother-Daughter fashion show at school!
David Oyelowo (“Selma,””The Butler”) is Brian Nichols, a cunning sociopath who lets us see his eyes wander through the escape he sees laid before him when he’s brought to the courthouse. He doesn’t talk, doesn’t betray emotion as he overpowers a guard, gets his hands on a gun, shoots his way into a courtroom and kills cops and a judge.
Nichols is a monster.
Veteran TV director Jerry Jameson, whose credits stretch back to “Mayberry, R.F.D.”, gives Brian Bird’s script some pop as he stages the parallel paths the murderer and the methhead take toward each other. Nichols carjacks his way to Duluth, Ashley is merely a target of opportunity.
There’s a race fear component to this story, with Oyelowo managing the menace necessary to create a character we fear will rape Ashley after a day of killing. Not that this would make much sense. Nichols is delusional, blaming others for trying to keep him down.
That’s once he starts talking. Reluctantly. But Ashley knows enough to try and engage her kidnapper in conversation. You’re less likely to slaughter someone who creates empathy in you.
“My family don’t listen to me, either,” she says, at the vivid descriptions of Nichols’ violent history on the TV news.
“That’s good to know,” he snaps back at her.
As escape seems impossible, she reaches for that book, and Nichols (who dips into her meth supply) insists she read to him. Thus begins the infomercial part of the film, the weakest link in it.
Whatever power this piece of writing had over the two of them, “Captive” fails to capture the magic, hope or whatever made it a best seller. That is a failing of the script, though perhaps Warren’s Biblical self-help tome lacks the poetry to manage that. Was it an “Oprah’s Book Club” selection? It feels like it.
“Captive” tends to unravel on this logical lapse, delivering a real-life ending that the film (not reality) fails to justify. As good as Mara, Oyelowo, Michael Kenneth Williams (as the cop chasing Nichols) are, as well-found as the ticking clock/closing net elements of this chase picture are, the faith-based kicker lets it down.
Not on principle, but in execution.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for mature thematic elements involving violence and substance abuse
Cast: Kate Mara, David Oyelowo Michael Kenneth Williams, Mimi Rogers, Leonor Varela
Credits: Directed by Jerry Jameson. Script by Brian Bird, based on the Ashley Smith book. A Paramount release.
Running time: 1:37