CANNES, FRANCE - Atom Egoyan’s hopes for a Palme d’Or win at the 67th Cannes Film Festival dimmed Friday, after his child kidnap drama The Captive premiered to withering critical reviews.
This latest effort from the Toronto filmmaker, the first up of a record three Canadians competing here for the Palme, drew mild applause but also a scattering of boos in the Palais des Festivals following its early morning world premiere.
The reaction on Twitter was much more negative towards this ensemble drama set in a wintry Niagara Falls, Ont. Ryan Reynolds and Mireille Enos play distraught parents of a 9-year-old girl who is kidnapped by an operatic peeping pedophile (Kevin Durand). Rosario Dawson and Scott Speedman are the Niagara cops trudging through multiple dark corridors.
Most critics, myself included, found the plot to be twisted to the point of absurdity. It’s also highly derivative of Egoyan’s past work, revisiting favourite themes of imperiled children, icy landscapes and mindscapes, and the invasive nature of video and Internet technology.
Brian D. Johnson of Maclean’s magazine called The Captive “a procedural pastiche of Egoyan tropes,” noting that “responses range from dumbfounded to vicious.”
Jake Coyle of The Associated Press said the film “is illogical generally, scene-to-scene and sometimes line by line. A real misfire.”
“Perplexes and irritates rather than thrills,” chimed in Cinevue, a British film website. “Cliché-ridden abduction drama from Atom Egoyan.”
Scott Foundas of Variety archly observed that “it’s rarely a good sign when a movie starts with the pedophile psycho listening to Mozart in his sleek modernist home.”
At least one prominent critic had something positive to say about the film, although it was something of a backhanded compliment.
“I absolutely get why The Captive was booed,” tweeted Robbie Collin of The Telegraph.
“It’s odd and heightened, and can’t be watched straight. But I really enjoyed it.”
I thought Egoyan had the germ of a good idea in the screenplay he co-wrote with David Fraser, but it’s been over-thought to the point of self-parody and pounded into submission by Mychael Danna’s bombastic score.
Egoyan and company want the commercial appeal of a genre kidnapping thriller, but they sabotage that aim by packing too many characters and incidents into a story that gets sillier by the moment. A potentially strong performance by Canadian-born Reynolds gets lost in a flurry of subplots.
It should be noted that press reaction is not always the same as that of the sequestered Palme jury at Cannes. There’s a possibility the panel led by New Zealand director Jane Campion could find favour with Egoyan’s film when they hand out awards on May 24.
That seems highly unlikely, however, leaving Egoyan’s second-place Grand Prix win for The Sweet Hereafter at Cannes in 1997 to be his highest achievement at the fest.
But there are two more Canadians about to take their shots on the Palme goal: David Cronenberg with Maps to the Stars on May 19 and Xavier Dolan with Mommy on May 22.
If Egoyan and his cast were aware of the critical drubbing for The Captive, they didn’t let on during the press conference immediately following the screening – and here’s a spoiler alert for Egoyan’s comments, which reveal plot details that really aren’t all that secret.
He said the story for the film was inspired by a real missing-child case in B.C., where he was raised:
“Every time I go back home, I see posters. The parents are still very invested in this.”
He agreed that all filmmakers have their “obsessions,” and that includes his personal love of wintry scenes.
“I come from Canada, so there’s a lot of snow. It’s a part of my landscape. Niagara Falls I just think is a magnificent natural wonder, which is even more magnificent in winter when it’s frozen.”
Egoyan and his cast also spoke to the issue of Internet-linked pedophile rings that the film touches on. Reynolds said he had a ready source for information on the problem, since his brother is an RCMP officer.
Egoyan called the film’s pedophile ring “an imaginary cult which is not so hard to imagine . . .
“It just seems so extreme, and yet there’s something so natural about it, given the psychology that the film is examining. So I just went there . . . It didn’t seem so outlandish, given the world we live in where everything is absurd, all the time. So why not just push it a little bit further?”