Ryan Reynolds has played superheroes, romantic comedy leads, seventh-year college students, and sitcom characters, but at this year's Cannes Film Festival, he appeared in a role he hasn't for years — that of a serious actor. Reynolds tends to get cast as the smartass, even in darker films, but he's shown some underappreciated dramatic chops when he's had the chance.
In the role of a working class Niagara-area dad in The Captive, the latest movie from Atom Egoyan, Reynolds joins fellow Canucks Scott Speedman and Kevin Durand, as well as Rosario Dawson and The Killing's Mireille Enos, in dealing with some heavy material in the story of the kidnapping of a young girl and the eight years that follow.
As Matthew, Reynolds navigates a seemingly permanent winter, his daughter Cass (Alexia Fast) being kidnapped, his marriage falling apart, and the discovery, much later, that his child might still be alive. He gamely weathers wild plot twists, but it's a lot of effort to a disappointing end — The Captive is a ludicrous movie that believes it's a very serious one, and the cast gets caught in the carnage.
Two-time Oscar nominee Egoyan earned his place as one of Canada's top filmmakers with a run of acclaimed movies in the '90s, including Exotica, The Sweet Hereafter, and Felicia's Journey. But nothing he's done since has been on the same level. His last feature, Devil's Knot, was dropped unnoticed into theaters earlier this month, despite starring Reese Witherspoon, Colin Firth, and Dane DeHaan.
The Captive feels like an unintentional parody of those earlier Egoyan films, bringing back many of the same themes and tropes for a central idea that isn't just silly, it's offensive. The fractured timeline, the thriller-as-dark-fairy-tale feel, the repeated references to The Magic Flute — they're in line with Egoyan's past work, but this time, in service to a story of a technological sophisticated ring of pedophiles so advanced in their perversions, they get off on stories and images of grief, some of which they caused.
As the movie skips back and forth between the (genuinely nightmarishly staged) moment in which Cass vanishes, the situation in which she ended up, and the changing relationship between Dawson and Speedman's detective characters, the stakes feel lower the more information is revealed. And despite its subject matter, The Captive essentially excises the idea of sex from its storyline by suggesting it's been sublimated into this consumption of suffering and memories instead. It's a paranoid helicopter parent's ideal affirmation — a thriller in which the world really is conspiring to snatch up your child, but only to mess with you.
The Captive will be released in theaters in the United Sates by A24, but another Cannes movie about the loss of a child and the way it affects a marriage will likely beat it into theaters.
The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, due out on Sept. 26 courtesy of The Weinstein Company, is a nuanced, well-acted portrait of tragedy that's as grounded as The Captive is heightened. Jessica Chastain plays the title character, named for The Beatles' song, a thirtysomething New Yorker who abruptly moves home with her parents (William Hurt and Isabelle Huppert) after an unsuccessful suicide attempt. James McAvoy plays Conor, Eleanor's restauranteur husband who flounders when he's cut out of his wife's life, and the film reveals more and more layers about their past relationship as the two try to figure out what's next.
When The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby originally screened as a work in progress at the Toronto International Film Festival in the fall, it was as two movies, Him and Her, showing the different sides to the separation as individual storylines and totaling 190 minutes. Them, the single movie version that played at Cannes and that will open first in theaters, drops around an hour of footage and intercuts the two points of view into an experience that's good, but far less experimental.
The foremost point of the original two-part version, which is slated to be released in a few theaters a month after Them, seems to be to highlight the ways in which Eleanor and Conor have failed to connect and communicate in their grieving experiences. Them ends up reducing this idea to something that's talked about rather than seen in combining the two sides into one more conventional story.
It's a little disappointing, given the nuance with which the film treats loss and how you can love someone while not being able to stand them. Them, as a stand-alone movie, works well enough, and utilizes its leads' slightly elfin charms to excellent effect, especially in happier flashbacks. But it's Him and Her that retain the possibility of something truly unusual, and that are worth lining up to see in the fall.