As humans, we get to deal with numerous situations each day we’re alive. Some are pretty benign, such as what to eat for breakfast. Others are more challenging, like determining the fastest way to a destination without the help of GPS devices. Some are even life-altering, such as going to the hospital for abdominal pain and finding out your appendix needs to be removed immediately.
But what do you do when someone kidnaps you and holds you hostage in your own house?
That’s the question Ashley Smith had to answer on March 12, 2005, when Brian Nichols, who had already killed four individuals and broken out of police custody in Georgia, found her and held her prisoner for seven hours in her residence. She was able to answer it in a manner that worked, saving her life and helping Nichols get recaptured. It’s a fascinating story, one that has been brought to the silver screen in the film Captive.
Of course, there’s more to the actual story than I shared above. Smith (played by Kate Mara [Fantastic Four]) is not the perfect individual—far from it. An opening flashback where she talks with her daughter Paige leads to the discovery that she’s a broken individual. Her husband was killed in the past and she’s fallen into the trap that drugs (specifically, ice) only help to perpetuate. She’s trying to break the cycle, but isn’t doing a great job of it. Her daughter stays with her aunt, she drives a car that is chronically one step from breaking down for good, and she’s close to losing her job as a waitress. One of her fellow members in a self-help group gives her a copy of the best-selling book The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren, but she promptly tosses it in the trash when she thinks the lady isn’t looking. She is, however, and gets it back to Smith when she arrives at her job.
Meanwhile, Nichols (Academy Award Nominee David Oyelowo, Selma) is being moved while at the Fulton County Courthouse. One moment of lapsed attention by his detaining officer leads to a rather grisly scene: she’s knocked cold and two others are shot point blank before he makes his escape. He’s desperately trying to remain ‘free’ while the whole state, led by detective John Chestnut (Michael Kenneth Williams), is out to find him.
That evening, Nichols finds Smith outside her new apartment and proceeds to take her captive inside. She’s fearful for her life and has every right to be. He’s armed to the teeth, has a police radio, and is desperate—she’s alone with only a CD player providing her companionship. He takes precautions to make sure she doesn’t escape while she wonders what to do. There is palpable tension in these scenes as Smith puts herself in harm’s way by offering him some of her drugs, only to have him attempt to force her to take them at gunpoint. She pulls out The Purpose Driven Life and starts reading it to him in snippets. Nichols admits at one point, “I’ve got a demon in me,” and talks about the newborn son he longs to see for the first time. He eventually asks Smith to read him more from the book, which acts as the impetus for her release and the peaceful resolution of the situation.
The film is one that may please both those of faith (Romans 5:20 is shown on the screen just as the movie begins) and those who enjoy real-life stories with a twist of brutal reality throw in by director Jerry Jameson. Personally, I’m in favor of this grittier-edge type of faith story that isn’t too ham-handed with its presentation. There isn’t an altar call to be found, but you can easily tell that Warren’s themes in his book (It’s not about you; God’s purpose is completely in play in your life) is brought front and center near the end.
It’s in this one moment that Captive ceases to be completely captivating. The violence works, but there’s a noticeable absence of swearing (actually, none at all) that one would expect when a violent criminal is in a desperate fight to maintain their freedom. It diminishes the performances of Oyelowo and Mara to some extent, although both are pretty convincing in their roles (Oyelowo moreso; I wouldn’t want to meet his version of Nichols in a dark alley). I also think that if there was more development of the backstory and the police scenes were treated like they were in the film Speed, then this film could be something special. In the final analysis, Captive is an entertaining film that falls short by playing to too many facets of their intended audience.
This is not to say that lessons cannot be learned from the movie. We’re able to see how one thing in a person’s life can be used to break them—in this case, Nichols’ desire to see his son. The police—and eventually Smith—use it to bring him closer to peacefully ending the standoff. This is also true in Smith’s life with her drug addiction; the difference is that she manages to break free and overcome. This is a power that doesn’t come through self-will, since “no temptation [overtakes a person] except that which is common to mankind” (1 Cor. 10:13 NIV). God has to handle the situation—and he excels in giving people a way out so that they can eventually stand. In the case of Smith, the drug sequence was the last straw and pushed into a completely clean lifestyle.
Smith has a line at the end when she tells the holed-up Nichols via megaphone, “It’s not too late . . . There is purpose in your life . . . Do the right thing.” Each person has meaning in life (yes, even the folks hanging out in prisons today); what they choose to do with it is a different story.
The greatest tragedy of life is not to figure out what that meaning is before dying. It starts with getting to know God and his plan to bring all people back to himself through Christ. With the difficult situations we deal with daily, it makes sense to give the one who created the earth and all who live in it a try.
It beats being captive to the rest of the world.