Review and interview with David Oleyowo: Captive probes the limits of redemption

David Oyelowo plays Brian Nichols
David Oyelowo plays Brian Nichols

Matt Adcock (@Cleric20) reviews Captive - and speaks to acclaimed star David Oyelowo

How far do you have to go before you’re considered ‘beyond redemption’? That’s a key question at the heart of Captive, the impressive fact-based crime drama based on hostage victim Ashley Smith’s account: Unlikely Angel.

The plot follows the heart-wrenching impact on two desperate people’s lives when convicted felon Brian Nichols (David ‘Martin Luther King in Selma’ Oyelowo) kidnaps drug addict Ashley Smith (Kate ‘Fantastic Four’ Mara). We get to witness a tense long night of the soul as Nichols holds Smith captive in her home after murdering four people during a frantic escape from the court (where he had just been convicted of rape). As a massive police manhunt rages across the state, Nichols lies low and finds himself interacting with Smith in ways that will potentially change both their lives.

A gritty true crime kidnap-em-up, Captive is at first glance a somewhat unlikely candidate to be a film that carries a heavyweight plug for the power of redemption featuring Christian Pastor Rick Warren’s best-selling book: The Purpose Driven Life. But much like the suitcase McGuffin in Pulp Fiction, Warren’s ‘Christian life motivation tome’ is an interesting element of the plot, which is used sparingly to thought-provoking effect.

Director Jameson keeps the action tight and is aided by the powerful interaction of the two leads as they explore issues including spiritual darkness, desperation and, yes, redemption but not in an overly saccharine preachy way. Mara is excellent as the twitchy troubled Smith whilst Oyelowo is simply outstanding as the psychotic Nichols, who believes he is fighting a one-man war against his oppression.

Captive provides a strong depiction of two lost souls finding an understanding around their common ground of each having estranged children, which allows their humanity to seep through. There is strong support from Mimi Rogers as Smith’s aunt who has custody of her daughter and Michael K Williams as Detective John Chestnut - the lead investigator on the police task force (who channels the energy of Wesley Snipes at his most dynamic).

Even as a film shot through with spiritual energy, you should be prepared for scenes of hard drug use and a truly brutal massacre that isn’t an easy watch. Captive is an intense and tragic thrill ride that will leave you with much to contemplate.

Matt Adcock meets ‘Captive’ star David Oyelowo

M.A. Why in world where we’re told people are disillusioned with God did you decide to make this film that has a Christian book at its core?

D.L. Because I don’t necessarily agree with that assessment. Never more has been more of a need for redemption – hope and finding out what God really is: which is Love… The two people in the film are not pursuing God but find that faith, grace and redemption intersect with them in this very dark situation that they find themselves in…

M.A. In the film there is a line where Brian describes himself as having a ‘demon in him’ – what are your thoughts on that?

D.L. Well, I’m a producer on the film and it was a line that I wanted in the film even though it was not in the original script. But he said that, it’s in Ashley’s book, he talked about feeling that he felt he had been possessed by a demon.

For me personally there is a physical, emotional life and a spiritual life and Brian had engaged in a very dark spiritual space to do what he did… He was taken over by something to do what he did – you can’t not have that in the movie.

M.A. Could anyone have the capacity to act as Nichols did if pushed?

D.L. I don’t think everyone has it in them to be a murderer but we all have buttons within us and personalities whereby through nurture maybe nature – we can go to places that are fundamentally the opposite of ‘Godly’. You know ‘sin is sin’ – and I really struggled with playing a murderer

M.A. You were scarily convincing can I just say

D.L. Why thank you, but I could identify (as a father of four) with the notion of being kept away from my children and what that could elicit within me, so there are things that can come along and push you to do things that you probably didn’t know were within you to do.

No one knows how they will react in situations like that but grace is grace and God is God.

M.A. Do you think believers invest their time in overtly faith based films or just maybe ‘be’ Christians in wider films?

D.L. For me, I am not interested in preaching to the choir – I feel that anything that has an overt agenda cannot be good storytelling or art – it should be thought provoking rather than leading you to a clear agenda ridden opinion on the basis of the person who created the art. For me I want to make films that make you look at your life… and are films that even if you don’t come from a place of faith you can watch it and get something from it – even it’s just entertainment value.

M.A. How much did you have to work out physically for the role?

D.L. Yeah, that was painful. Brian Nichols was an ex football player so was a big guy and I, as much as possible, especially when you play an actual person you’ve got to get as much of an assimilation of the real person as possible…

You also want to play on the audience’s prejudices. You have this big black man who kills four people and then takes this diminutive white woman hostage, that does all kinds of things to your prejudices whether you’re black or white. And as a black person I was like ‘Do I really want to play the black guy who goes and murders people?’ but ultimately it was the humanity of the people involved that came out…

So yes it was a lot of time in the gym, a lot of work but my wife was very happy with it!