Skip to main content

A review of "Captives" (1994)

The Short Bit for People Who Don't Like to Read Reviews

If you're looking for a unique romantic drama with a dash of crime suspense, Captives is a good bet.  It's a well-acted and surprisingly believable romance with the unique and unexpected premise of one of its leads being a prisoner.

My Rating: 4 / 5

The Part Where I Summarize the Plot

Rachel (Julia Ormond) is a young dental hygienist who joins a part-time program as a prison dentist.  On her first day on the job, she meets Philip (Tim Roth), an attractive and charismatic inmate.  They exchange some flirtatious words and then Rachel tries to ignore him and get back to work.

However, she finds herself strangely fascinated with him and can't seem to get him out of her mind.  She's in the process of divorcing her husband, which may be a factor - or maybe she's just intrigued by the idea of living dangerously.

The good news for Rachel - and the plot - is that Philip is part of a lower-security rehab program that allows him to leave the prison one day each week in order to attend some computer classes so he can find gainful employment when his sentence is fully served.  They bump into each other at the supermarket on his day out and engage in all the typical romantic comedy beats, which further drives Rachel into an obsessive frenzy.

There's maybe another twenty minutes of flirting or so, including a couple of phone calls that I guess can happen in England?  (Side note: This is a British movie.  That's probably pretty important to remember, since I don't think any of this could happen in America.  Do we even let prisoners read books anymore?  If movies have taught me anything about American prison, I'm pretty sure we just shove everybody in a dirt hole and throw piss on them for a few years.)  Finally, Rachel admits to herself that she's falling for Philip.  They hook up on another one of his days out and begin a covert and somewhat illicit affair.

The relationship is loving, but tense since they need to keep everything under wraps at all times.  Rachel is worried she'll be found out by her superiors and she also is paranoid because she doesn't actually know why Philip was incarcerated.  And Philip is worried the other inmates might find out because then they could potentially do something violent to her if they have a beef with him.

After having an argument with Philip, Rachel does some independent research and discovers the horrifying truth about why he's in prison.  Years ago, Philip killed his wife in a jealous rage.  She's not totally sure if she can forgive him, but it turns out they have bigger problems: another inmate has discovered their affair and wants to blackmail Rachel into joining a drug-smuggling scheme to bring fresh supply into the prison.

Rachel and Philip patch things up between each other.  Philip says he'll try to sort out the blackmail plot on his end by going to the warden, but warns Rachel that the inmate's connections on the outside world could be dangerous.  Almost immediately, we find out just how bad it is: the gangster underworld has been spying on Rachel and knows her schedule and her circle of friends.  They threaten to kill a friend's son if she won't cooperate.

With few options, Rachel agrees to pick up a package and smuggle it into prison.  At the last minute, however, she has second thoughts.  It turns out the package she's bringing in isn't drugs - it's a gun.  She tells Philip about it and he warns her to lay low.  Philip goes to the warden and tells them about the smuggling plot, and meanwhile Rachel goes to have a drink where she's threatened by a thug (briefly played by Mark Strong) who tells her to give the gun back.  Rachel ends up shooting him to death instead, and the cops descend on the bar.

In the final moments, Rachel is being taken away to prison to await trial.  The arresting officers say she'll probably be released since it was self-defense and the guy she killed was a gangster.  She asks where she'll be jailed, and when they tell her, she muses that she'll have to cross a river to see Philip again.

The Part About the Romance

I'm always up for an unlikely romance, so I really enjoyed the central relationship of Captives.  It's refreshing to see a movie that portrays something interesting and new, particularly when one of the two leads is at the lowest point in their life.

This makes the love affair in Captives so much more suspenseful than an average romantic comedy by default.  It's not that I don't like romcoms (though, admittedly, I dismiss many of them at first glance).  It's just that if you show me two young, attractive, physically fit, healthy, wealthy white people and you suggest that they might start dating, my response is going to be, "No shit."  Why the hell wouldn't they?  But you make one of those people a convict, and now suddenly I actually care whether or not they still love each other at the end.

It's not even like they made the two leads particularly different from each other.  They're still both young, attractive, physically fit, healthy, and white.  Hell, Philip isn't even locked up the whole time - he gets a day each week to go out on the town, which solves a big obstacle in the relationship right way.  It would have been a much more conflicted romance if Philip was a black guy with a peg leg who spends all his time locked up in solitary.

I guess what I'm saying is, people who make romantic comedies should take a page from Captives.  I'm not asking filmmakers to go overboard - just do something different.  Literally anything.  You don't have to make your characters grotesque or unbelievable.  Just stop showing us architects and bakers with easily solvable problems.  What about a lawyer and the hooker he's defending?  What about a middle-aged housewife with three kids who just got divorced and she meets a nineteen year old basketball player?  What about any two random people who have nothing in common?

I think I'm just rambling now.  The point is, I would be up for another three or four romantic movies about prisoners.  It's fun.

The Part About the Suspense and Bad Netflix Summaries

This has nothing to do with the movie, really, but now's as good a time as any to complain about this.  Captives was like the sixth movie I've seen in the last month that Netflix has a shitty - or downright misleading - description for.  The summary Netflix has is:

Inmates leverage two lovers who are allowed to pursue their romance on a prison day pass into a dangerous drug smuggling scheme.

While technically accurate, this is a pretty bad summary of the movie.  It's much more of a romantic drama than it is a thriller.  In fact, my plot summary seems a little disproportionate in retrospect because I spent a few paragraphs talking about the drug-smuggling subplot instead of only a few sentences.  The entire subplot fits neatly into a thirty minute window.

That whole angle is actually such a minor part that I kinda wished the last act of this movie didn't bother with it.  I was already on board with the relationship between Rachel and Philip, and I would've been fine if they just left it at that.  It's one of those rare situations where threatening to murder a kid in the last act of your movie actually doesn't raise the stakes.

Where You Can Watch

All the Other Nonsense That Got Pushed Off the Main Page (Post Archive)