Captive is an understated story of addiction and recovery framed as a hostage thriller. Based on Ashley Smith and Stacy Mattingly’s nonfiction book Unlikely Angel, it tells the story of a young meth addict in Atlanta who gets taken captive by an escaped convict, establishes a rapport with him, and manages to stay safe until she can contact law enforcement officials. In finding the inner strength to navigate the experience, she realizes she can get through life without drugs. The movie ends on a positive note, a postscript stating that, in real life, the heroine managed to stay clean, reclaim custody of her young daughter, and lead a healthy life. Captive is being advertised as a “faith-based” drama, since the heroine finds inspiration to better herself from a Christian self-help book, yet screenwriters Brian Bird and Reinhard Denke and director Jerry Jameson downplay the role of religion in her transformation, aiming for a universal message of mind over matter.

The moving early scenes establish an air of tragedy, as Ashley (Kate Mara) struggles to get through life addicted to crystal meth. She wants desperately to be reunited with her daughter, who’s lived with her great-aunt (Mimi Rogers) since a judge declared Ashley to be an unfit mother. The aunt is stern with Ashley but clearly believes in her: she facilitates frequent visits between Ashley and her daughter, and helps her out when she falls behind on rent. Ashley is further encouraged by a woman she meets at a drug addicts’ support group, yet she’s too bogged down in self-pity to accept the person’s help.

When Ashley is taken hostage by escaped convict Brian Nichols (David Oyelowo), she quickly recognizes another damaged spirit. She learns from a TV news report that Brian has a newborn son, and she engages him in conversation about the pain of being unable to see your own child. Up to that point Brian has seemed like a hunted animal more than a person, but this discussion reveals his human side and he begins to let down his guard, untying Ashley and taking part in more personal conversations. Oyelowo is especially good at conveying Brian’s development, his hard body language subtly softening as the drama unfolds. Mara more than holds her own, her performance growing more assured as her character gains confidence. The shifting dynamic between these two performances reflects the shift that takes place within the heroine toward a growing sense of self-control.  v