I come from the stable of 30-something Christians who grew up with no concept of a connection between Christian belief and the world of Hollywood – the only onscreen version of Jesus being the embarrassment of clips from Jesus of Nazareth shown during teenage Religious Studies lessons (which almost led me to recant).
I consequently find it almost impossible to approach a film that I’m aware is high on Christian content with a balanced outlook.
So, I almost had to pinch myself while watching a pre-screening of US crime drama Captive.
Captive, which is based on the non-fiction book An Unlikely Angel tells the true story of Brian Nichols (played by David Oyelowo) who was on trial for rape when he escaped Atlanta’s Fulton County courthouse. As the opening action unfolds – with a number of dramatic homicides at the hands of ruthless escapee Nichols – we meet Ashley Smith, a chaotic drug addict who is halfheartedly trying to escape her own prison of a narcotics-fueled life.
As the title suggests, Nichols takes Smith (played by Kate Mara, recently seen in House of Cards) captive, and she becomes his unlikely hostage in her own home as he tries to evade capture. Cue a full-scale manhunt; but one that allows space for us to step back from the action at points to explore the intensity and ramifications of Smith’s drug addiction as well as something we don’t often get to reflect on in many thrillers – the wavering complexities of the feelings of a killer.
As in Selma, Oyelowo steals the show, hurling his trademark carefully-considered passion into the role. Both he and Mara play the core Christian content in the script in a natural, unforced way, which came to me as an enormous relief. While a hostage, Smith began reading aloud sections of Rick Warren’s bestseller The Purpose Driven Life. This lead to some remarkable conversations on forgiveness and the meaning of life between captor and captive – with Warren’s book arguably having been the trigger to both Smith and Nichols choosing to redirect their lives.
Following the film’s conclusion we are privy to some extra footage from US chat show Oprah, and there’s a guest appearance from Rick Warren. This may tick boxes for the religious American viewer, but for me it was an unnecessary adjunct to a film that had already drawn me in, prompted reflection and had me gripped right until the closing scenes.
Gimmick or not, this final aside reminds us that Smith, ten years on from her ordeal at Nichols’ hands, is of course more than just a character in a film, and is now a married, drug-free Christian. And Nichols, having narrowly missed a death sentence, is serving a life sentence without opportunity for parole.