Captives (1994)

Julia Ormond (Rachel), Tim Roth (Philip), Colin Salmon (Towler)

Directed by Angela Pope

Plot: A dentist, struggling to put her life in order after her husband's affair, works two days a week at a prison. She becomes attracted to a quiet, introverted prisoner with a violent past, becoming inadvertently embroiled with the IRA.

I adore Tim Roth. He never seemed to make it big the way I imagined back when Reservoir Dogs came out, unwilling or unable to escape roles as thugs (Hoodlum), loveable idiots (Four Rooms; Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead) or thoroughly disgusting, Oscar-nominated villains (Rob Roy). A quick IMDB check, however, shows he will feature in nine films before 2008 is out. Nice! Maybe he'll actually receive a little due. Or, less likely, another romantic lead.

Captives is great. Somewhat implausible, but great. Whatever-happened-to Julia Ormond assumed her vaguely wet blanket persona here, like many of her performances, but with passion and grit enough to stand up against the challenges of the role. Her backbone and approachability made Rachel a complex, compelling character, both warped and confused.

My rational self insists that any woman worth her salt would have found out what her new prisoner boyfriend DID TO GET INTO PRISON before taking the relationship any farther. Kyra Sedgewick's character in The Woodsman (one of my earliest blog reviews) makes the same stupid ass decision. However, neither character was exactly normal -- the former is unbalanced because of her situation, the latter because of her childhood -- and their responses should not be judged from rational points-of-view.

Despite a storyline that progresses along Ormond's character arc, Roth is the heart of the movie. As Philip, he is equally vulnerable and terrifying. Only knowing how the movie concludes allowed me to watch his performance with an appreciation of the man he portrayed. Philip is all eyes. Watching. Reading people. And his utter dependence on Rachel's attention is as threatening as it is heartbreaking. I love that he is a man of violence and toughness, but we learn he became so because of his incarceration. This film is as much a commentary on the prison system as it is concerned with the relationship between two people.

Noticing that the director is a woman, I watched this time through with a curiosity as to how the movie would have been fashioned by a man. Perhaps Julia Ormond would have been topless for the sex scene, rather than keeping her bra on and keeping the focus on the situation. Props to whoever decided the scene inflicts damage enough on steady pulse rates without the need for nudity.

Also, one of the most subtle scenes -- when, after hours, Rachel is cornered by two good-natured prison guards -- might have gone missing from a man's interpretation. She worked in a prison, surrounded by violent offenders and protected by the men working to keep order. But in the same way a lone woman in a subway car will case exits and fish pepper spray out of her purse when three men step on board, she found herself suddenly vulnerable, anxious, cornered. The inherent potential for violence loomed large, no matter their occupation and uniforms. Those few minutes gave me chills.

Otherwise, who knew bathroom sex and quick gropes in a dentist's chair could be so erotic? Who knew that a male character with a truly irredeemable past could become endearing? And who knew such an improbable premise might result in an upbeat finale? This film follows a number of conventions but breaks just as many. Love it.

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