Director: Rupert Wyatt
Cast: Vera Farmiga, Ashton Sanders, John Goodman, Madeline Brewer
Runtime: 1 hr 50 mins
Released By: Shaw Organisation
Opening Day: 11 April 2019
Synopsis: Set in a Chicago neighborhood nearly a decade after an occupation by an extra-terrestrial force, CAPTIVE STATE explores the lives on both sides of the conflicts - the collaborators and the dissidents.
It isn’t hard to guess what Rupert Wyatt had in mind when he co-wrote this science-fiction thriller with his wife Erica Beeney. On one hand, you have an alien race called the “legislators” who have taken up residence on our planet after conquering it with minimal resistance; and on the other, you have a group of insurgents planning an all-or-nothing assault on the aliens to resist the current state of authoritarianism. Yet by the end of an oddly lethargic one-and-a-half hours, you’ll be left frustrated with how Wyatt has failed to coalesce this hodgepodge of ideas, symbolism and conceits into a compelling social allegory that he had quite obviously intended.
The set-up is both familiar and peculiar: like most such alien invasions on film, this one begins with one such event that occurs out of the blue, takes the human race by surprise, and proceeds to wreck havoc and confusion. A prologue at the beginning shows the Drummond family attempting to drive out of the city of Chicago during the invasion itself, and losing both Dad and Mom to one of the extra-terrestrials in a tunnel, leaving two young boys in the backseat. Fast forward nine years later, these aliens have since oddly gone underground (we would have thought that it would have been the other way around) in closed zones, but continue to lord over mankind through installing willing human proxies in key Government functions.
That very proposition is intriguing all right, not least because as we hear the Chicago mayor proclaiming in a speech, there has been an “American renaissance” in a booming economy as well as a low crime rate. Could subjugation be in fact a better model of governance than democratic freedom, that has in turn fuelled the sort of destructive populism we are seeing in many countries around the world? Alas, while it teases that idea, the narrative is never focused enough to give it satisfactory treatment. Its attention is instead scattered amidst a number of characters, including the younger Drummond boy Gabriel (Ashton Sanders), his older brother Rafe (Jonathan Majors) and the veteran Chicago police officer Mulligan (John Goodman).
Whereas Rafe was a central figure in the resistance movement that had attempted a failed uprising called Wicker Park, Gabriel wants nothing to do with it, and tries to convince Mulligan of the same. On the other hand, Mulligan is convinced that the members of the movement called Phoenix are still active, and hopes that Gabriel will be his lead to finding these rebels. It would suffice to say that Rafe isn’t as dead as Gabriel had believed at the start, and that Mulligan is right to suspect Phoenix is again up to something major; although we should add that a pivotal supporting character is a prostitute named Jane Doe (Vera Farmiga), whom Mulligan follows a lead to and whose role in the larger scheme of things isn’t that much of a mystery even at the start.
Ditto the fact that Mulligan’s suspicions are right, i.e. that Phoenix is planning something big which will utterly upset the balance of peace which has been forged between our race and the aliens. If the first act struggles to define the relationships that matter (e.g. that between Rafe and Gabriel) as well as the motivations of these characters (e.g. Mulligan’s determination to crush the rebels), the second and third acts at least pack enough momentum depicting the resistance’s plan to ambush the aliens during a massive rally at Soldier Field and its subsequent fallout. To be sure, it is a far cry from the thrill of watching Wyatt’s more meticulously crafted ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’, but certainly more invigorating than the film’s turgid start.
If it isn’t clear, by the time the members of Phoenix are forced to go underground, Wyatt has long ditched the commentary and reverted to the beats of a more conventional action thriller. Yet the patchy character work at the start hardly makes us care for any of these people in the story in the first place, not just the resistance fighters who are one by one rounded up by both the law and the aliens, but also the ones supposedly at the heart of the story, i.e. Gabriel or Rafe or Mulligan. That we hardly care about the big last-minute twist at the very end shows how poorly invested we are in the narrative, and how the storytelling has indeed failed.
We don’t blame Goodman for being utterly dour throughout the movie, or for that matter, Sanders for his bland performance; ultimately, they as well as the rest of the actors are given too little to work with. Besides getting the dystopian atmosphere right (with plenty of monochromes), the rest of ‘Captive State’ could do with a lot more work, whether is it to sharpen the premise and its underlying messages or to give the characters more substance and texture. As it is, you’ll be left wanting by this undercooked alien occupation drama, which however nobly constructed from scratch (than say being a remake or adaptation), will have you feeling less captivated than held captive for its duration.
(A hodgepodge of intriguing but underdeveloped allegorical ideas, coupled with thin character work, will leave you less than captivated by this alien occupation drama)
Review by Gabriel Chong