Dateline Atlanta, March 11, 2005. It was the day that an African-American male, Brian Nichols, on trial for a rape he says he did not commit, took the law into his own hands. After breaking free from a sheriff's deputy, assaulting her in a holding cell, and stealing her gun, he waltzed in to a courtroom and shot dead the judge and court reporter, ran outside where he killed a police sergeant, and later shot and killed a federal agent.
An intense manhunt ensued, of course, and Nichols sought refuge in the apartment of single mom Ashley Smith in the town of Duluth, Georgia. Their seven-hour hostage "ordeal" is retold in "Captive".
Ordeal is in quotes because as depicted in the film, it really wasn't much of one. We never feel as though Ashley is in any real danger. In fact, as portrayed by David Oyelowo, Nichols comes across as a nice guy. It's not Oyelowo's fault --- the star of last year's "Selma", cheated out of an Oscar nomination for that great movie, is strangled by a tepid script in "Captive". Based on Smith's own book, and adapted by Brian Bird, "Captive" is simply proof that not all true life stories make for compelling entertainment at the movies.
As Ashley, Kate Mara is as flat as she was in "Fantastic Four". We are foretold that the pair's accidental meeting turns out to be a blessing for both of them. Smith was a crystal meth junkie who lost her young daughter, Paige (a totally adorable towhead played by Elle Graham) to authorities, and whose husband died at the hands of a drug dealer. Nichols' young son was born out of wedlock only days before the shootings.
None of these facts manages to arouse any sympathy in us for these two individuals. Nichols hangs a mirror for Smith, who has just moved into her new place. She makes him a breakfast of pancakes, and proceeds to read to him aloud from "The Purpose Driven Life", a best-selling book that sold millions of copies. Eventually --- WARNING: SPOILER ALERT --- she convinces him to give up to police who have surrounded her apartment. The final credits reveal that Ashley has re-married and regained custody of her child, and that Nichols will spend the rest of his life in prison.
"Captive" is more suited for a one-hour TV show, an opinion driven home by clips of the real Ashley Smith on "Oprah", followed by the book's author, Rick Warren. The movie is a weak attempt to relate a compassionate story, but it proves to be nigh impossible to feel compassion for a guy who guns down four people in cold blood. Eighty-year-old director Jerry Jameson's claim to fame includes past television programs like "Mod Squad", "Walker, Texas Ranger" and "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman", and it shows.
I also had a problem with the casting of Michael K. Williams as the lead policeman. In "Boardwalk Empire", his Chalky White was a memorable character. In this film, his portrayal of Det. John Chestnut rings false, in one scene, even pushing over a vending machine in apparent frustration.
The majority of the film takes place in Ashley's apartment, but there is no suspense, only tedium, and the film's 97 minute running time didn't feel merciful, just long. "Captive" is compelling evidence that truth isn't always stranger than fiction.
Opinion: Don't Bother!