Does anyone remember Captive State?
Captive State came out in March and, before it was released, it seemed like it had the potential to be something special. The trailer looked good. The cast was impressive. Perhaps even more importantly, the film was directed by Rupert Wyatt, who did such a good job with Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes. Surely, if anyone had the talent to create a convincing film about life under an alien dictatorship, it would be Rupert Wyatt!
In fact, my only reason for concern had to do with when the film was being released. March seemed like a very strange time to be releasing a big “event” film. Don’t get me wrong. A March release isn’t as bad as a January or even a February release. I mean, unless your film is a romantic comedy, you definitely do not want it to be released in either one of those two months. Those months are where studios dump their worst films so that they can die a quiet death. March, on the other hand, is when the studio releases films that have the potential to be a success but which they’re still not expecting to set the world on fire.
Of course, there have been exceptions to that rule, as both Wes Anderson (Grand Budapest Hotel) and Jordan Peele (Get Out) can tell you. So, as Captive State’s release date approached, we were left to wonder. Would this be another case of a film being better than it’s release date or would this be just another forgettable but not terrible movie that the studio probably spent a bit too much money on?
Captive State, sadly, turned out to be more of a case of the latter than the former.
The film opens with Chicago being invaded in 2019. Significantly, unlike other recent invasion films, this one doesn’t spend too much time on the invasion itself or Earth’s initial attempts to fight back. Instead, it jumps forward eight years, to 2027. The aliens are in control of Earth, though the aliens themselves claim to only be “legislators” who are governing the planet for our own good. While the majority of Earthlings just seem to be resigned to accepting being conquered as their new normal, there are a few resistors. There’s also quite a few collaborators. The tricky part of life in 2027 is figuring out who you can and can not trust.
There’s a lot of characters in Captive State and, at times, it can be difficult to keep track of how everyone’s related and who is working for who. However, that seems to be intentional on the film’s part. Rather than telling a conventional tale of alien conquest, Captive State sets out to be a serious exploration of what life would be like for the people living under the thumb of not just an intergalactic dictatorship but actually any dictatorship. The Legislators rule by fear. The collaborators have their own individual reasons for collaborating but, now that they’ve declared which side they’re on, there’s no going back for them. One way or another, they’ve sealed their fate. The same can be said for those in the rebellion. Meanwhile, most people are just trying to not get caught in the crossfire.
And the thing is …. you want the film to work. It’s an intriguing idea and how can you not respect that fact that Wyatt wanted to try to do something a little bit different with his story of alien invasion? But sadly, the film never works the way that you’re hoping it will. The film tries to do a lot in just 109 minutes. In fact, it probably tries to do too much and, as a result, there’s little time to get to know the characters, the majority of whom come across as being underwritten and with murky motivations. Captive State hinges on the actions of a detective played by John Goodman but the film itself doesn’t seem to be sure of who Goodman’s supposed to be. Hence, the film’s final twist seems to come out of nowhere. It’s hard not to feel that the ideal way for Captive State to have told its story would have been as a 10-episode miniseries on HBO. Trying to stuff all of this into under two hours of running time just doesn’t work.
And it’s a shame, that it doesn’t. Ambition should never be faulted. If only the results, in this case, lived up to the ambition.
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