Friday May 3, 1996
In prison films, the inside is supposed to be hell and the outside paradise, but "Captives"--BBC veteran Angela Pope's feature film debut--makes the whole world purgatorial. Less correctional than just oppressively gray, hers is a London devoid of hope or even dreams.
And had there been a bit more going on and a bit more making sense, "Captives" might have been an exemplary film. As the soon-to-be-divorcing dentist who finds love within the prison's walls, Julia Ormond shows why people are excited about her and why we have to hope "Sabrina" was an aberration; Tim Roth, a consistently fine actor and a dark presence, gives off an aura of oily seductiveness and danger. And there's a consistency of tone that--with the exception of the finale's concessions to thriller conventions--shows a sure hand at work.
At the same time, "Captives" is too dark and slow-moving for most of its length to generate much visceral tension (although Ormond and Roth do in their scenes together) and because your mind has time to wander it finds questions: Why is Ormond's Rachael Clifford subjected to the kind of security measures that are stringent enough to unnerve her, while a convicted felon like Roth's Philip Chaney is allowed to leave the facility for college classes (and, along the way, engage in torrid sex with Rachael)?
What, other than Philip's charm, is Rachael's motivation for falling in love? Yes, she's been betrayed by her effete husband and is deeply hurt, but it seems that the romance would have made even more sense if it were active rather than reactive. That Chaney is so different from Rachael's husband leaves us with the inescapable impression that she's a frivolous woman nursing her wounds with the most perilous of infatuations--something Ormond's own characterization contradicts.
There are good supporting performances: Colin Salmon, whom Det. Jane Tennyson fans will recognize from "Prime Suspect II," is a menacing Towler, the prison drug kingpin who blackmails and terrorizes Rachael into a smuggling scheme; Keith Allen of "Shallow Grave" is fine as Lenny, the resident Elvis obsessive. And the prison atmosphere is both banal and lethal, with violence both pedestrian and vicious; a prison bathroom attack on Chaney, which he foils, is too commonplace for the film even to explain. In the end, though, Pope may have overdone the realism because, for all its atmospherics, "Captives" is a bit too much like incarceration for its own good.
Captives, 1996. R, for a strong sex scene, language and some violence. A Distant Horizon and BBC Films production, released by Miramax Films. Director Angela Pope. Producer David M. Thompson. Screenplay Frank Deasy. Cinematographer Remi Adefarasin. Editor Dave King. Music Colin Towns. Production design Stuart Walker. Running time: 1 hour, 39 minutes. Julia Ormond as Rachael Clifford. Tim Roth as Philip Chaney. Richard Hawley as Sexton. Colin Salmon as Towler. Keith Allen as Lenny.