Directed By Rupert Wyatt
Starring – Ashton Sanders, John Goodman, Vera Farmiga
The Plot – Set in a Chicago neighborhood nearly a decade after an occupation by an extra-terrestrial force, “Captive State” explores the lives on both sides of the conflict; the collaborators and dissidents.
Rated PG-13 for sci-fi violence and action, some sexual content, brief adult language and drug material
– A great sense of weight and world building. When science fiction is done right, you can feel the change in tone from environmental differences contrasted so differently from our own world, and “Captive State” rattled me with the hell that our once familiar world has become, at the hands of an unforeseen army watching from above. George Orwell frequently warned us against this kind of thing in “1984”, and like that movie, Wyatt’s world conjures up the kind of feelings in hopelessness and helplessness that invoke the biggest scares from the science fiction genre. To me, once you see how an event has changed a barrage of people, only then will you realize true terror, and the movie’s brand of science fiction terror is held competently in its grasp because it takes something so far fetched and grounds it in reality, so that we the audience can comprehend how our world became this way.
– The genius that is Rob Simonsen. This composer has been lighting up our ears for years, most notably with some of his best work in 2014’s “Foxcatcher” and 2016’s “Nerve”, but his influence in this film echoes constantly throughout, in a musical score that stays with the story un-flinched. Simonsen attains distress in the form of repetition in a single piece of music, and slightly alternating its composition each time through. It reminds me a lot of Cliff Martinez, particularly in his work in Soderbergh films, in that it’s asked repeatedly to amplify the tension of the action-less sequences transpiring, and masters it any and every time. Even though redundancy is the tool used most effectively for Simonsen, the entirety of his work on the score alters so frequently that it never tests the nerves of the audience who are engaged in it, often switching up the tempo alongside the movie when it switches scenery’s.
– Surprises behind every turn. While the screenplay does tend to get away from the general interest of the audience who were promised one particular film and given another, it does reward patience in the form of third rug pulls that do prominently pay-off. Constantly throughout the film, you’re wondering what the correlation is between these many different characters we’re seeing, and the unique way that it ties them all together is something that I admit I didn’t see coming, and made for the tightest of bows in combining truth and logic effortlessly. Aside from this, there’s much respect to be given for introducing us to a subgenre that I’m confident I’ve never seen before, and that is “Alien political thriller”.
– Stirring performances front and back. It’s exhilarating to see Ashton Sanders leading a genre film, especially as he offers up enough heart below the surface to play against what we see front-and-center: a bundle of anxiety, anger, and occasional hope. Goodman is also brilliantly duplicitous, offering an against-type turn as an alien enforcer and Chicago police officer, who thrives within the deepest parts of the new foreign planet leadership, when everyone else around him strives for daily survival. The film dazzles the brightest when these two are on-screen together, but the added intensity of supporting turns from familiar faces like Alan Ruck, Kevin Dunn, Ben Daniels, and of course Akron’s own Vera Farmiga, adds a layer of prestige to a film so unpredictable that any one of them could easily be labeled expendable.
– Unmistakable social commentary. During an age when our own freedoms are being encroached upon, the film’s raw material speaks volumes to the concept of social revolt, and just how long and how much has to be lost before someone is willing to risk it all to change the system. While “Captive State” is certainly a dystopian worst case scenario at best, the seeds of similarity ring true when vital exposition drops hints at walls being set up across major cities around the world, as well as a questionable mayor being criticized for his ties to the newfound leaders of the once free world. Whether or not writers Wyatt and Erica Beeney intended for this haunting story to ring so true with our own trials and tribulations, the fact remains that “Captive State” feels like the bombastic warning to inspire a stern message that if we give an inch, someone else will take a mile.
– Better suited for television. Aside from this film just trying to cram far too much story in a brief 104 minute run time, the cheap production value in effects and set pieces, as well as the episodic roller coaster of pacing, makes this feel like it would be better served on a media platform without such limitations. It’s certainly easy to see the clearly visible book ends with each respective act during the film, where one episode ends and another begins, but the dialogue heavy exchanges sacrificing the promised big budget action sequences more than pay homage to binge-worthy television, and makes this a difficult one to stay focused on when the confines of a theater start to feel testing. If “Captive State” were on Netflix, this would be a guaranteed gold mine, but the silver screen isn’t as kind to something that virtually glosses over important details, like how we even got here in the first place, in favor of a computer screen that tells-and-not-shows in a one minute over-stuffed vacuum bag.
– Doesn’t have a central protagonist. One could argue this point in favor of Sanders, but that debate is easy to dispute, especially when you consider that his character goes missing for twenty minutes at a time, multiple times during the film. Is it possibly Goodman? Well, he’s more of an antagonist at times, so the debate to mold him into even a redeeming protagonist with conflictions is something that is a bit of a bitter pill to swallow. With so many characters and sections of this story being fleshed out, there’s a severe jockeying for position in screen time that does nothing in managing the kind of consistency required for indulgence and investment. Did I feel for these characters? Absolutely, but the biggest hurdle to jump over is the fact that there’s not enough moments of self-reflection to allow me to see myself in any of their predicaments.
– Horrendous camera work. Much of the fast-paced sequences, especially those of on-foot chases, felt every bit as distorted as they did cropping. What I mean by this is every depiction feels zoomed in far too close, or rumbled with such gimmick shaking cam that leaves it difficult to focus for our eyes or the integrity of the shot respectively. This is one gimmick that I wish would die a horrible death in fast-paced action sequences, because it takes away from the stellar job of the editing, which is surprisingly well reserved here, as well as the impactful sound mixing that narrates the devastation, but thanks to the compact angles we don’t see.
– False advertising. This is without a doubt the biggest obstacle that the movie will face, as the trailer promises us this big budget action blockbuster that is never remotely realized with what transpires. In reality, “Captive State” is a strategic political thriller, the majority of which is spent on the ground building the plans. If this is your thing, fine, but the aliens themselves are shown for probably five combined minutes throughout the film, and even then only crack the glass of potential in terms of what they can actually do. Deceitful trailers raise expectations, and then slowly diminish them with a finished product that is anything but what was advertised, and I can see this unfortunate aspect being something severely compromising to people who paid to see it for a particular reason.
– Poor lighting serves a purpose. This might sound like a positive, but the lack of overall style associated with the film is clearly only used as a convenience to hide the lack of dimensions and rendering with the alien creatures, that makes them indistinguishable. I mentioned earlier that the aliens are barely in this movie, and even when they are we get these ugly depictions in the worst kind of lighting that makes it difficult to register what is taking place. This feeds into the uninspiring production quality of the movie, but the noticeably darker lighting scheme when these monsters show up is every bit as obvious as it is compromising, and gives those brief scenes of payoff yet another test of patience with an audience who have already had enough.
My Grade: 5/10 or D+