Have you ever Xeroxed a picture repeatedly until the image became so degraded that only the highest-contrast elements of the original remained? Imagine doing that with Denis Villeneuve’s “Prisoners,” the other Canadian-directed child abduction movie, and you’d get something like Atom Egoyan’s “The Captive.” Retreading "Prisoners" territory to an extent that at times makes you wonder if they’re two parts of some sort of Canadian auteur experiment that no one else is in on, what is lost in the transfer, however, is any of the Villeneuve film’s subtlety or shading, and we are left only with its most lurid, credulity-stretching highlights, with all other textures blasted out to snowy blankness. Populate this sketchy version with the bargain-basement versions of the other film's leads (Ryan Reynolds instead of Hugh Jackman, Scott Speedman instead of Jake Gyllenhaal), add in a villain so ludicrously evil that he should really twiddle the obviously skeezy pencil mustache he sports, and drench the whole lot in an omnipresent score that crashes and thuds along in ever more hysterical crescendos, and you have an idea of what we experienced this morning at Cannes. There were boos.
Blue-collar family man Matthew Lane (Reynolds) stops to pick up a pie on his way home from the ice rink with his 9-year-old skating prodigy daughter Cass, but when he returns to the truck where HE LEFT HER, as is screamed at him often by his wife Tina (Mireille Enos) thereafter, she has been taken. Because of the film’s haphazard and confusing flashback structure, however, we already know that eight years later she is alive, and being kept in a locked basement by a creepy perv called Mika with a creepy perv’s tache (Kevin Durand, unsurprisingly) who only ever seems to listen to one piece of music in his designer home: the Queen of the Night’s aria from Mozart’s “The Magic Flute.” We also know that Nicole Dunlop, the crusading child porn cop played by Rosario Dawson has gone missing at some point too, and that Jeff, the detective she was working with, played by Scott Speedman, is desperate to find her, when he’s not clashing with Matthew whom he suspects of complicity in Cass’s disappearance for no other reason than “he reminds me of someone.”
With three or four different time periods over the course of the eight-year investigation covered and returned to time and again, but without any discernible rhythm, it’s really only by paying stricter attention to Speedman’s facial hair than we’d like to have had to, that we eventually worked out a rough timeline and even then, certain events are unmoored: how long before she went missing did Dunlop discover the cameras that were filming Tina? When exactly did Matthew see his daughter and why hadn’t he told Tina about it? Why didn’t Tina ever tell him that tokens designed to remind her of Cass had been left in the hotel rooms she cleaned? At the time it was just perplexing, but now in retrospect it feels like some of these jarring jumps around in time were deliberately there to obscure the more egregious moments of illogical and out-of-character behavior. Like when Mika, the supervillain pedophile, who has successfully outfoxed the authorities for years, hatches another needlessly Machiavellian plan to gain more emotional currency from Cass, and gets his lackey to do the heavy lifting, but is then dumb enough to go in person to pick her up.
And we haven’t even gotten to the most credulity-stretching part of the plot yet: not only has Cass been kept alive in captivity long past the time that Mika has lost sexual interest in her, she’s been put to work luring in other children over the Internet, while also recording stories and reminiscences from her life for an obscure reason never fully explained. But wait, there’s more! As a further sideline to his live child-porn business, Mika has also installed cameras in the bedrooms where Tina works, ostensibly so that Cass can watch her mother, but later it’s hinted that there’s actually another shady ring within the pedophile ring of people who get off on the grief of the parents of the children they’ve abducted and abused. Convoluted much?
Any other year, in any other context, “The Captive” would simply be another overcooked rote thriller that, like so many other films in this genre, totally loses the run of itself in the final act (seriously, Kevin Durand goes so Bond villain that he even has a female henchperson sidekick). But debuting In Competition in Cannes, and coming from one-time auteur Atom Egoyan (whose excellent “Exotica” and solid “The Sweet Hereafter” are increasingly looking like anomalies in a filmography that more recently includes duds like “Devil’s Knot”) we might have expected more. Instead, right down to the nearly synonymous title we get a lurid, silly “Prisoners” me-too (and that film itself was far from flawless) in which the only additions are a flashback-and-forward structure that never works, the kind of contrivance in which a laptop camera accidentally left transmitting records a crucial conversation (perfectly framed) and a crude, distastefully regressive subtheme which suggests that well, of course that this is what happens to girls and to women (even successful, intelligent, independent women) when they are left alone even for a moment by their menfolk. Boo, indeed. [D]