Joyce and I recently saw a pre-release screening of Captive at The Sheen Center.

It's a very powerful film about how Ashley Smith, played by Kate Mara (Fantastic Four), was held captive by Brian Nichols, played by David Oyelowo (Martin Luther King, Jr. in Selma),  in her own home for seven hours. Brian put a woman in a coma and then shot and killed four people as he made his escape from an Atlanta area courthouse and carjacked one vehicle after the next. He took refuge in Ashley's home, where she read from The Purpose Driven Life, the second most translated book next to The Bible, to Brian, and he [SPOILER ALERT for any who weren't aware of this front page incident over ten years ago] turned himself in to authorities.

The film has the crucible of Ashley's home at the center of its tightly wound plot, with glimpses of the world outside, terrorized. Michael K. Williams (RoboCop) plays Detective John Chestnut, who is leading the pursuit. Joyce pointed out that his character sets up a picture of the power struggle between Satan (Nichols: "I have a demon"), Man (Chestnut, so frustrated by his powerlessness he destroys a coffee machine while Brian Nichols' image mocks him from the monitor behind him), and Jesus Christ (in a postlude Oprah says to the real Ashley, "Jesus loves you!").

Ashley's book is titled Unlikely Angel because she was a methamphetamines addict at the time she was taken hostage in her own home. After the screening we saw, Ashley was a part of a panel interviewed by Gayle King of CBS Good Morning. Gayle asked Ashley about a moment in the film when Brian asks Ashley for drugs. She brings out the methamphetamines she almost flushed earlier. Brian tells her to take the drugs along with him. Ashley told the audience at the screening that in that moment she knew she had been more of a captive to drugs than she was to Brian that night. She refuses the drugs as he's taking them, but later, when he thinks they were laced, he tries again to force her to take them. Still she refuses. Ashley told us that her Aunt Kim had prayed for the Lord to take Ashley Home if she were not able to stop taking the drugs.  Ashley thought that if she capitulated to taking the drugs when Brian held the gun to her head, she would literally die.  Caught between death at Brian's hand and death at the drugs' hand, she chose obedience to God, risking her life with the man who'd killed four people that morning. Brian hijacked five vehicles within fifteen minutes, and one woman reported that he told her, "Don't you see this blood on my hands? I'm a dead man." Ashley also knew he had nothing to lose, but still she chose not to take those drugs. Ashley told us that after that moment she began to see Brian through the eyes of Jesus. Later in the interview Gayle King asked Ashley what compelled her to make pancakes for Brian. She took us back to that moment of refusing to take the drugs and how it sparked her ability to see him through the eyes of Jesus and treat him as a real human being.

Ashley told how she watched Captive for the first time sitting beside her daughter, Paige, who is now 16. Ashley thought she'd gone through all of the emotions since that day, but the film brought them flooding back for both of them.

Ashley was joined in the talk-back by Kate Mara, David Oyelowo, Mrs. Nichols the mother of the murderer, and Terry Botwick, one of the producers. In the audience were director Jerry Jameson, Mr. Nichols and Ashley's Aunt Kim, who had a major role in Ashley's recovery.

Kate talked about spending the day with Ashley. She focused on being truthful to who Ashley was at the time she was a hostage, though Ashley has been drug free since that night and was clearly transformed.

David Oyelowo pointed out that his character didn't speak for the whole first act of the film. We don't hear his voice until he was in the apartment with Ashley. That was an intentional choice to make him the two-dimensional mugshot we all saw on the news when he was the most wanted man in America. When we first hear his voice he's yelling over Ashley: "If you scream again I'll kill you!" But as Ashley is able to see him through the eyes of Jesus, gradually, so are we.

Gayle King asked David what drew him to portray someone who could murder four people in one day. He's made it clear he is a Christian, and he told us he doesn't naturally go after that kind of role. He said that was a sacrifice he knew he had to make so that Ashley's story could be told. He believed in it enough that he came on board as a producer.

On August 27, 2013, I was in LA to perform in my former student Nathan Clarkson's Confessions of a Prodigal Son. While there I was having lunch with Susan and Ken Wales (producer of Alone Yet Not Alone, Amazing Grace, Christy), who I've taught with on a number of occasions. He told me how excited he was that the LA Times had run a full-page spread the day before: "David Oyelowo delves deeper for role in 'The Butler'." It was confirming to Ken that David had what it would take to pull off the role for Captive and get it some attention.

David was unable to meet Brian Nichols because Brian is still -- a decade later -- in solitary confinement serving four consecutive life sentences. His mother explained during the talkback that she and his father are the only ones allowed to see him at this time. When Brian's son turns 18 he will be added to the list.

Mrs. Nichols told us that she feels no personal guilt over what Brian did because they raised him right. They always brought him to church, and he was living a good life, but when he was accused of raping a woman something snapped. Mrs. Nichols said demons entered him.

David asked Mrs. Nichols what it was like to watch the film. He almost stopped himself from asking the question, acknowledging how awkward it might be. Mrs. Nichols honored him, saying she was so drawn into David's work that there were times she forgot it wasn't her son.

She and her husband continue the ministry into Brian's life that Ashley began. His mother said he is deeply repentant and knows that turning himself in was the very best thing he could have done. He recognizes that part of his purpose is showing others that they should never turn from God.

Caroline Duffy is Ashley Smith's publicist. When I contacted her she was on her way to a screening of Captive, but she took the time to send the following about working with Ken Wales:
I can’t recall if I found Ken through connections or he found me, but I can tell you that it felt like a God thing when he called me out of the blue in the middle of so much chaos.  He had worked with ‘instant celebrities’ before and gave me a primer on what to expect.  Ashley was too overwhelmed to even consider the dozens of movie offers coming her way and Ken understood that the movie would only happen in God’s timing.   She initially was very wary about Hollywood, so it was critical for us to do the movie with someone who respected her faith and frailty at the time.   We agreed to table any movie discussions until after the book launched.  Ken stayed in touch, assembled the right players, and persevered with this project through many highs and lows.   The fact that it has landed with a major studio and major actors has us all in awe of what God can do when you get out of the way and just let him direct the show!
Ken Wales came out to see my
performance of Beyond the Chariots
in 2006.
One of the lows Ken shared with me was how at least one studio wanted to run with the story only if they left out The Purpose Driven Life angle. Ken refused to give in to that kind of thinking. When he was spending time in Atlanta with Ashley it occurred to him that The Purpose Driven Life was actually a character in the film! So he brought director Jerry Jameson and writer Brian Bird out to meet with the book's author, Pastor Rick Warren.

Ken happened to be in Atlanta with Ashley and her family when she was honored by the governor. When she received the award she thanked, "my Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ."

When I called Ken to congratulate him on making such a great film and confirm my recollections over the many years I've been tracking this production he said, "We kill and badly wound people every day with our attitudes and remarks, and God's saying, 'Stop it! You have a choice!'"

Here's a shot from someone else who was there that evening.  Each preview of the movie is dubbed a "Night of Purpose"...

Our friend Jim Betts was interviewed before seeing the film. He helped 130 recovering drug addicts of the Salvation Army's Adult Rehabilitation Center be a part of that Night of Purpose.

Christians should know:
*Rated PG-13 for mature thematic elements involving violence and substance abuse.
*In Unlikely Angel Ashley mentions that she was dressed comfortably for an evening alone, and that when Brian was there she was uncomfortable with what she was wearing. Costuming reflects that.
*A single use of dam_.

MovieGuide review: 5 Things You Need to Know About the Movie CAPTIVE.

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Rich Swingle said...

God's Not Dead in the Compelling Drama "Captive"

Anonymous said...

Excellent review, Rich. It brings out the vivid colors of how this film was approached, its authenticity, and its message. Thanks.

Rich Swingle said...

Joyce and I saw Captive a second time to support it during it's opening weekend and cast a vote for more films with a Christian worldview.

Here are some things we noticed the second time around:


When Brian throws Ashley into her bathroom she is slammed against her medicine cabinet and shatters the mirror. That shattered mirror is used throughout the film as a metaphor for their shattered (purposeless) views of themselves. When Ashley is deciding at gunpoint whether or not to take drugs she looks up to see her shattered self next to her true self in the unbroken half of the mirror. Later, Brian hangs a mirror for Ashley. He takes a long look at himself, considering his purpose. The next thing we see is him setting The Purpose Driven Life on the breakfast table. Ashley also looks into that mirror when she returns to her apartment. It is now a crime scene she can't enter, but across the police tape she sees her true self framed by one of the good things Brian accomplished because of her obedience.

Rich Swingle said...

In my opening to this morning's service at Westchester Chapel I shared some spiritual illustrations from Captive and how this may very well be an historical week with three films with a Christian worldview in theaters simultaneously. At the time the service was posted they were all in the top twelve places at the box office: War Room, 90 Minutes in Heaven and Captive. You can hear my comments here.