The Captive: Atom Egoyan’s latest drama misfires

The provocative, horrific topic of child abduction would seem entirely appropriate for a filmmaker as talented as Atom Egoyan, many of whose previous films (Exotica, The Sweet Hereafter, Chloe) have tackled provocative subjects in incisive, insightful fashion. Egoyan specializes in dissecting and exploring the innermost fears, desires and obsessions of his film’s characters, often to devastating effect.

It comes as a surprise, and not a good one, that his latest film, The Captive (originally titled Queen of the Night), is such a letdown.

The story’s chronology shifts back and forth in time over an eight-year period, beginning with the sudden, inexplicable abduction of a youngster named Cass (newcomer Peyton Kennedy) and its immediate impact on her parents (Ryan Reynolds and Mireille Enos) and the detectives in charge of the investigation (Scott Speedman and Rosario Dawson), who initially suspect Cass’ father.

Years later, this cold case suddenly heats up when the image of a teenager (Alexia Fast) thought to be Cass appears on an Internet pedophilia site. By this time, her parents’ marriage is in tatters, although her father has always held out hope that Cass would be found alive.

Ultimately, the pedophilia angle proves merely a plot device in what ends up being a melodramatic, formulaic police procedural better suited to cable television. There are plot twists, several unnecessary and some absolutely detrimental to the overall effect of the film. Although the stark, wintry locations make an intriguing backdrop for these proceedings, when The Captive starts to stumble it never recovers. Isolated scenes are effective, and some of the performances are good – Reynolds is first-rate, giving one of his best performances ever – but the elements don’t congeal properly, the pieces of the puzzle don’t fit. The film becomes pretentious to a fault, alternately overwrought and underwhelming. There’s no question that Egoyan is a gifted filmmaker, but The Captive ultimately stacks up as an interesting failure.

The Captive is scheduled to open Friday at Carousel Cinemas, Greensboro