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'Captive' review: Low-wattage thriller based on a true hostage story

Kate Mara as Ashley Smith and David Oyelowo

Kate Mara as Ashley Smith and David Oyelowo as Brian Nichols in "Captive." Credit: AP / Evan Klanfer

"Captive" is the true story of a woman who survived a hostage situation in part by reading aloud to her captor. The woman, Ashley Smith, didn't seem like the most capable person, a methamphetamine addict whose young daughter had been taken from her. And her captor, David Nichols, was no pushover, an accused rapist turned multiple murderer. Their encounter could have ended in many worse ways.

And the book? It was "The Purpose Driven Life," an inspirational bestseller by the evangelical pastor Rick Warren. Smith went on to write her own book, "An Unlikely Angel," on which "Captive" is based.

There are two potential movies in "Captive," which is capably directed by Jerry Jameson (a television veteran whose credits stretch back to "The Mod Squad") and written by Brian Bird. One movie is the psychological thriller: mouse outwits cat. The other is the modern fable: the unbeliever finds redemption. "Captive" tries to strike a balance between the two, but in the end it doesn't deliver the pleasures of either.

It initially unfolds like a tough-minded crime film as Nichols, played by a steely David Oyelowo ("Selma"), escapes from a Fulton County holding cell in Atlanta. Nichols is fast, smart and cold as ice. He leaves bodies wherever he goes and stays a step ahead of the police (Michael K. Williams plays Det. John Chestnut). When Nichols breaks into Smith's house and expertly spins masking tape into handcuffs, we can tell this guy is not some panicky amateur.

Once Smith and Nichols settle into something like a routine, so does "Captive." Smith, a somewhat one-dimensional role played by Kate Mara ("Fantastic Four"), survives mainly by staying calm and paying attention. Warren's words certainly resonate with Nichols, but Smith also gleans that he wants to live to see his newborn son someday. Smith deserves credit for keeping a cool head -- and for not succumbing to her addiction under stress -- but the strategy makes for a somewhat low-energy film.

"Captive" closes with a clip from "The Oprah Winfrey Show," where the real-life Smith told her story and spoke with Warren himself. It's a compelling segment that makes for good human-interest television, though that's probably where it should have remained.

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