In the wake of the mighty McConaissance, is it now time for a Rey-boot? Over the last three years, the actor Matthew McConaughey has expertly slipped from romcom purgatory to critical and public acclaim via a series of brilliantly chosen, often loopily intense, character-actor roles.
No one else in Hollywood now needs to make the same transition more than Ryan Reynolds, whose benighted recent projects (R.I.P.D., Green Lantern, The Change-Up) are all symptomatic of the post-heartthrob slump.
The Captive is exactly what he needs. Atom Egoyans film is a shiveringly tense abduction thriller: half-opaque and bitingly cold like the surface of a frozen lake. When Reynolds first appears, hes driving a pick-up truck through the snowy backroads of Niagara Falls, Ontario, his square chin covered by scribbly beard, a baseball cap pulled down tight. He sees a teenage girl walking by the roadside, pulls over and asks if she needs a ride.
At first, you assume Reynolds is the abductor, but in fact hes a collateral victim: Matthew, a landscape gardener whose own daughter was snatched from a car park eight years previously. Now, he spends every spare moment out on the road, looking for young women, in the hope that one might be her.
The films French title is Captives, plural, which is vaguer than the Anglo-American singular, and makes more sense. Everyone connected to the crime the prisoner, her family, her captor, the police becomes spiritually chained to it, unable to take more than five steps without it tugging at their ankles, wrenching them back. Moving on moving anywhere is impossible.
Egoyan and his co-writer, David Fraser, tell the story rattled out of order, like a witness statement given under pressure. The narrative hops back and forth across eight years, as if the film is trying to recall all of the relevant details at once.
Early in the film, a police detective (Scott Speedman) questions a local businessman about the disappearance of a fellow officer, played by Rosario Dawson yet there, a few scenes later, is Dawson in her office, about to welcome Speedmans character into her department.
The structure shares something with Christopher Nolans Memento, but while that film was a Jenga tower of narrative riddles, precariously stacked, The Captive feels more like a scattered pile of jigsaw-pieces, which you group by colour and tone until the larger picture starts to cohere. (Not for nothing is one of the detectives handling the case a preternaturally gifted jigsaw expert.)
Its the abduction itself that shakes things into place. Egoyan shoots it coolly and simply, with a slow zoom on the door of the bakery into which Matthew has disappeared, only momentarily, to buy something for dinner. His daughter, Cassandra (played by Peyton Kennedy as a child and Alexia Fast as a teenager) is only out of the picture for a few moments, but those few moments are enough.
Theres no question as to whodunit. The very first person we see in the film is a tall, drawn man with beige hair and a pencil-thin moustache, air-conducting Mozart: basically, a bad egg. He rolls back a wooden panel in his house imagine a nuclear bunker designed by Terence Conran to reveal a hidden chamber, sealed with a combination lock.
This man, Mika, is played by Kevin Durand in a strange, peering performance, located right on the tipping point between sinister and overripe. Its queasily unsettling; almost Twin Peaks-like, as if the character has walked into our world from out of a cracked mirror. Mika, too, cant escape his crime, and hungrily obsesses over Cassandras parents, as if their loss is somehow more satisfying than his gain.
He starts to construct elaborate breadcrumb-trails, willing them to find out more, as if too impressed by his own cleverness to keep it secret. Mireille Enos, superb as Cassandras mother Tina, starts discovering her daughters old possessions in the hotel rooms she cleans: clues that make up a riddle worthy of her daughters mythological namesake.
Egoyans decision to allow his villain as much screen-time as his victims reminds you of George Sluizers The Vanishing, as do some of the films nastier developments although he goes out of his way, in the last two scenes, to leave you with something as close to a happy ending as is by that stage possible.
This is Egoyans best film for a very long time: like Reynolds, he needed a hit, and The Captive is a welcome return to the form of The Sweet Hereafter. Its eeriness creeps up on you and taps you on the shoulder, and when you spin around, its still behind you.