Remember that shocking news story a decade ago? On March 11, 2005, Brian Nichols, faced with charges of assault and rape, escaped from the Fulton County Courthouse in Atlanta, Georgia. Brian brutally attacked his transporting officer, taking her gun and radio, and began a rampage that ended in the death of a judge, a court reporter, a police sergeant and a federal agent. Desperate and on the run, Brian took hostage Ashley Smith, a recovering drug addict. Ashley would finally be freed over seven hours later, but it was what happened during her captivity that made for a truly miraculous story of hope in the midst of despair.
“Captive” is based upon a true story as recounted by Ashley Smith in her memoir Unlikely Angel: The Untold Story of the Atlanta Hostage Hero. While imprisoned in her own home, Ashley finds peace and courage in the inspirational book The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren. Then, through talking with her abductor and reading him the book, Ashley is able to soften Brian’s defenses, calm his anger, and persuade him to release her and surrender.
Let me first give a clear warning
This movie is intense and generally not suitable for children. The film is rated PG-13 for thematic elements involving violence and substance abuse. Several murders take place, and you as a viewer are brought into an emotionally-driven, anxiety-filled journey that instills genuine terror as you fear for the well-being of characters. Parents should be wary: this is not your next family-friendly, faith-based film. Also, minor spoilers ahead.
Let me first give a clear warning
This movie is intense and generally not suitable for children. The film is rated PG-13 for thematic elements involving violence and substance abuse. Several murders take place, and you as a viewer are brought into an emotionally-driven, anxiety-filled journey that instills genuine terror as you fear for the well-being of characters. Parents should be wary: this is not your next family-friendly, faith-based film.
Creative Cinematic Choices
From the opening frames the audience is captured (no pun intended) by the visual style of story-telling. The first scene introduces us to a loving mother-daughter relationship depicted with a full range of warm oranges and gentle yellows. Then a sharp cut quickly gives us a contrast of another time period and place. We instantly feel like something precious has been lost and are now surrounded by dark, cold hues of blues and grays. Initially, we see a mother captivated by her child, but then we abruptly see her captivated by her addiction to methamphetamines.
Ashley loses everything because of her addiction. She laments, “Every time, I say ‘This is the last time;’ I can control this. But then I do it again, and again, and again… I just can’t stop. I like it too much.” The leader of the recovery meeting hands her a well-worn book, The Purpose Driven Life, and tells her, “You can’t do this alone.” Most of the film presents these kinds of dualisms between characters and their choices. Ashley wants to control her problem, but she does not understand that she cannot do it alone and is instead controlled by it.
Ashley wants to change her life for her five-year-old daughter Paige. Ashley has just moved into a new home, and the whole apartment is an unpacked mess except for one room: Paige’s room. As in many scenes, we instantly see a conflict of desires. Ashley wants to give her daughter a good life, a good room. But her own life as a mother, and the rest of the home, is in shambles.
Brian also has a child — a newborn son named Christopher — whom he dreadfully wants to see, fueling his initial escape. Brian too has lost everything because of his lack of self-control. He is a slave to denial and paranoia. He seems to show no regard for anyone else, and yet you know that this man truly does love his son — at least in the ways he knows how to love.
Perhaps one of the most vivid themes presented throughout the movie is that of self-reflection. The audience is frequently shown the point-of-view of the character through the brilliant use of mirrors. We see the perspective of characters as they look in mirrors and reflect on their own image, on their own identity. In fact, one of the most pivotal moments for Ashley’s arc is when she stares into a broken mirror and sees her own broken reflection, symbolic of what her life has become. This moment gives her the final resolution she needs to resist taking any more drugs even at the threat of her own life. Before, she seemingly could not control herself from taking another hit. Now, even when being forced with a gun to her head, she refuses.
“Captive” is a practice in the art of minimalism. We are not overburdened with unnecessary exposition. In fact, there is very little dialogue in the film. Rather, the story is told through the actions, tones and facial expressions of the characters. Solid performances are given throughout, along with thought-provoking shots of the captor and captive, separated by walls and differentiated by their intentional frame placements.
The best-selling book of all time (after the Bible)
Surprisingly, Warren’s book only makes a few brief appearances. The first passage is not read until almost the hour-running mark. But the impact is real when hearts begin to change as Ashley reads: “The greatest tragedy is not death, but life without purpose. We were made to have meaning.”
The book, as well as this film, is ultimately a message of hope. It tells us that no matter how big our problems are, God’s purposes are bigger. It is a message of freedom for all of us who are held captive by our past, our sins and the unfortunate circumstances life so often brings.
“Captive” is an American crime-drama thriller directed by Jerry Jameson (“The Mod Squad,” “Walker Texas Ranger,” “Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman,” “Murder She Wrote”) and produced by Paramount Pictures. The film stars Kate Mara (“Fantastic Four,” “Transcendence,” “House of Cards,” “127 Hours”) as Ashley and David Oyelowo (“Selma,” “Interstellar,” “Rise of the Planet of the Apes”) as Brian. “Captive” premiers in theaters on September 18. For more info you can visit: captivethemovie.com
Finley is a freelance writer and doctoral student at SEU. He can be reached at: [email protected]