28th Mar2019

‘Captive State’ Review

by Jak-Luke Sharp

Stars: John Goodman, Ashton Sanders, Jonathan Majors, Vera Farmiga, Kevin Dunn, James Ransone, Alan Ruck, Madeline Brewer, Machine Gun Kelly, Kevin J. O’Connor | Written by Erica Beeney, Rupert Wyatt | Directed by Rupert Wyatt


Captive State is director Rupert Wyatt’s first feature film in five years after the relatively underseen drama, and his remake of the same name, The Gambler – released in 2014, starring Mark Wahlberg, Brie Larson and John Goodman. Wyatt re-teams with Goodman on his latest science fiction thriller that evokes a similar sentiment as his breakout cinematic hit Rise of the Planet of the Apes in 2011, with deeply engaging social/political commentary and a superb climactic flair that crafts Captive State into a thrilling, albeit slightly over-convoluted narrative.

The stand out here is the superbly eerie and grounded production design by Keith P. Cunningham. The execution of scale and scope in the unsettling and glib setting of a worn-torn extra-terrestrial controlled Chicago is a thunderous amalgam of dystopian realism and imaginative science fiction lore. The mise-en-scene is dreary, murky and full of dread in powerful images that convey such a sharp severe dread on screen. Courtesy of the terrific cinematography by Alex Disenhof, of whom is clearly influenced by the imagery and work crafted by controversial German filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl, in capitalising in predominately handheld footage that is contextually appropriate concerning the plot to a grassroots approach of rebellion or war-torn investigative journalism. Stylised in a documentarian aesthetic, similar to that of Paul Greengrass, the result is cleverly engaging and apt design to convey the austerity and dictatorship within Chicago.

Captive State‘s aesthetic in total is comparable to that of Alfonso Cuaron’s chilling dystopian drama Children of Men in terms of execution of setting. The scale is grounded in a realistic take with a restriction of science fiction convention. An element that frees up the believability factor ten-fold that ultimately feels profoundly chilling and compelling with the audience witness to a pragmatic creation of what seems on the surface an unlikely event. Yet is layered in social/political commentary that is reminiscent of an Orwellian political text such as 1985 or the current White House regime, but at this stage, the lines are ever so blurred of reality and fiction.

John Goodman impresses in a complex performance that has a stoic intensity with a terrific shadowy bravado as SS equivalent Police Chief William Mulligan. It’s a sizeable part with significant depth layered in an enigmatic moral compass of which Goodman relishes. It’s a relatively singular performance from an outstanding actor that bizarrely has little engagement to no engagement with his co-stars, and it’s only really with Ashton Sanders character Gabriel Drummond where his interactions commence. A subtle cue from writers Wyatt and Erica Beeney who cleverly poise the film on the back of relatively newcomer performer Sanders shoulders, after his breakout role in Barry Jenkins Moonlight in 2016.

Sanders is rather compelling in a role that holds sizeable depth with a terrific Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho inspired character narrative in the film’s opening from both Wyatt and Beeney, that subtly gives the picture emotional depth and gravitas to the unfolding proceedings. In a tense atmospheric tone that holds up with seismic intentions throughout. Sanders holds his own during the picture and treats the feature as a drama more so than a sci-fi entity that ultimately allows Sanders to spread his dramatic wings and his ability of what was ever so captivating in what he brought to Moonlight.

Wyatt’s film, unfortunately, does have a few niggles and issues. Namely the narrative that is undoubtedly convoluted with multiple subplots, separate threads and character arcs that almost if not all successfully collide with great consequence and impression in the finale of the film. Yet, one can’t argue against the fact that their sizeable in screen time and somewhat overwhelming with little return. Much like the chaotic narrative on offer, there are multiple nameless characters here that have hollow implications to the overall plot. Machine Gun Kelly as Jurgis is a great example of a character that serves zero purpose to the end result yet is bizarrely melded into significant subplots and threads that eat away at the running time and take away depth and establishment of other parameters of the film.

Captive State is on limited release across the UK from this Friday, March 29th.

One Response to “‘Captive State’ Review”

  • Justo

    Never saw Colony? TV series? Carbon copy too many things are the same.