- Megan Basham WORLD News Service
- 2015 21 Sep
(WNS)--For those put off by the heavy-handed messaging and tidy endings typical of many films marketed as Christian, Captive, rated PG-13 for realistic drug use and violence, will come as a breath of fresh air. The movie recounts the true story of Ashley Smith, the young waitress who used, among other things, Rick Warren’s self-help book, The Purpose Driven Life, to convince escaped murderer Brian Nichols to turn himself in.
Harrowing as this setup is, the movie seems to go out of its way to avoid sensationalizing Nichols’ 2005 escape from an Atlanta courthouse after killing three people (then later, on the run, killing a police officer). Too often, in these kinds of memoir-based dramas, the characters read as types. Yes, Ashley is struggling to get off meth, but “drug addict” is not the sum total of who she is. She’s also a grieving widow who moves a box of her deceased husband’s clothes into her new apartment.
Even more impressive, we see something more in Nichols than a monster on a crime spree. Without in any way diminishing the evil of his choices, we also see his humanity. When he asks Ashley for marijuana and she tells him she only has “ice,” Nichols has no idea what she’s talking about. That subtle implication of how sin has destroyed the hope of a once-promising college football player from a middle-class upbringing is devastating. And it’s clear that Ashley’s Christ-like ability to share in Nichols’ brokenness and show him small mercies in the midst of his rampage has as much to do with his later actions as Warren’s bestseller. Had she presented herself as the righteous superior of her captor, all the purpose-pushing in the world would have had no effect on him.
Director Jerry Jameson’s nuanced approach is enhanced by phenomenal performances from Kate Mara (Fantastic Four) as Smith and David Oyelowo (Selma) as Nichols. The problem—as is almost always the case in movies based on very public true stories—is that the narrative at times lacks tension. Anyone who saw Smith on Oprah or Larry King, already knows what happens. The interest comes from seeing her wobbly faith grow through her ordeal and transform both her and Nichols. Unfortunately, Captive makes too little use of this element.
With the exception of opening with a Bible verse and ending with a hymn, the Christian references are subtle. Regular churchgoers will recognize small things, like Ashley’s meeting at Celebrate Recovery, a Bible-based 12-step ministry that many churches offer. This isn’t to suggest that the story should have gone fake, only that it could have found a way to show us more of what’s happening in Smith’s mind. Show us more of the silent prayers to and comfort from God that she discusses in her book.
Still, even if Captive represents something of an overcorrection in Christian-related films, it is still a correction. The best moment, for example, comes after Nichols has agreed to let Ashley go. For an instant, he seems to experience a sense of transcendent courage that by (at last) doing what is right, he can bear what is to come. Then, as the sound of police choppers presses in—doubt, fear, panic. That, too, feels all-too relatable even for longtime believers in Christ. Captive is to be credited for allowing such realistic weakness to spoil the fairy tale.
*This article first published by World News Service