A Netflix Original
Season 1, 8 Episodes
Two episodes in, I was thrilled by “Captive.” Maybe it’s the inevitable consequence of binge-watching, but I found my interest waning after the fourth episode or so.
What does “Captive” get right?
1. Having survivors tell their stories. You begin to care about these people from the beginning, and knowing that they survive only increases your anxiety for them.
2. Giving hostage-takers a chance to talk. “Captive” goes beyond the good guys-bad guys formula that might be inevitable in the 45-minute format (example: my guilty pleasure Seconds From Disaster). Being asked to listen to someone who has, by their own admission, done horrible things is an exercise in empathy and a window onto redeeming grace.
3. The filmmakers never speak. There is no commentary, only black-and-white captions to provide context. The filmmakers trust viewers to deal with the complex emotions on their own.
4. Brilliant cinematography. Wide-lens, high-definition shots of pristine landscapes clash with the brutality of the narration. Incredible, straight-down overhead shots pan over the setting to provide context.
5. Editing. The right balance of archive footage, interviews, dramatizations, and meditative shots of the landscape.
With everything that went right, you might ask, and I ask myself– what went wrong?
Without disregarding or downplaying the suffering of any whose stories are featured on “Captive,” it must be said that the series does better handling the stories of shorter captivities. They are more dynamic. The episodes on year-long captivities tend to drag. As these longer captivities were the result of terrorist activity, the filmmakers would have done better to devote more time to the international context, rather than provide an extra ten minutes’ dramatization of the captives sitting around, growing bored and weary.
If you only watch one episode, watch the second one. Following the story of a Coca-Cola executive’s snatching from the streets of Rio de Janeiro, it presents the narratives of kidnapper and kidnapped side-by-side. A crime drama becomes a story of grace, compassion, and common humanity.
Redemption is always an option.
3.5/5 stars: Gripping stories and important issues, hampered half the time by pacing issues.
3/5 ‘fraidy cats: Your daily route to work will no longer be daily.
2/5 ick factor: Unsparing news footage. Only the most gruesomely-mangled corpses are censored.