Welcome back to Cannes Check, In Contention's annual preview of the films in Competition at next month's Cannes Film Festival, which kicks off on May 14. Taking on different selections every day, we'll be examining what they're about, who's involved and what their chances are of snagging an award from Jane Campion's jury. Next up, the third Canadian director in the lineup: Atom Egoyan's “The Captive.”
The director: Atom Egoyan (Canadian, 53 years old). There was a time when Egoyan looked to be as estimable a festival fixture as his compatriot David Cronenberg, but his career hasn't moved in the direction many thought it would after he won big at Cannes (and scooped a surprise Best Director Oscar nod) for 1997's critical peak “The Sweet Hereafter.” Born in Cairo to Armenian-Egyptian parents – a heritage he'd later explore in his 2002 film “Ararat” – Egoyan largely grew up in British Columbia and studied at the University of Toronto (where he taught for several years in the 2000s).
After cutting his teeth on multiple shorts, he made his debut feature “Next of Kin” in 1984 – it was on that project that he met his wife and regular collaborator, actress Arsinee Khanjian. A varied range of projects (including episodes of “The Twilight Zone” and “Alfred Hitchcock Presents”) followed before his breakout feature (and first Cannes selection) “Exotica” in 1994. “The Sweet Hereafter” followed, but his status has slipped in the new century: in particular, star-driven semi-mainstream projects like the Julianne Moore thriller “Chloe” and last year's “Devil's Knot” failed to win over critics.
The talent: A fellow son of British Columbia whose career could similarly use a lift is actor Ryan Reynolds, whose Hollywood leading-man credentials have taken a knock with duds like “The Green Lantern” and “R.I.P.D” – retreating to smaller festival fare seems a natural move at this point. Co-starring are Rosario Dawson, Mireille Enos (whose work on TV's “The Killing” scored her an Emmy nod) and Canadian standbys Scott Speedman and Bruce Greenwood. Egoyan is on script duty as usual; his co-writer David Fraser takes his first feature credit here after a handful of TV films, but previous worked with the director as a story consultant on “Ararat.” Cinematographer Paul Sarossy (recently an Emmy nominee for “The Borgias”) and editor Susan Shipton are both longtime Egoyan collaborators, as is composer Mychael Danna (“The Ice Storm,” “Capote”) whose already high profile got a further boost with an Oscar for “Life of Pi.”
The pitch: In light of his recent work, it's not a surprise to see Egoyan swimming in mainstream thriller waters again, even if the Cannes berth — something neither “Chloe” nor “Devil's Knot,” both Toronto premieres, could claim — might lead some to expect a return to art-house fare. The premise and trailer for “The Captive” promise a kidnap thriller in quite a familiar vein; its leading man's beardy countenance is the least of its resemblances to Denis Villeuneuve's “Prisoners.” Reynolds plays a family man whose young daughter is taken from the back seat of his car. As the investigation uncovers surveillance cameras in his own home, it becomes clear this is no ordinary kidnapping case; the narrative spools out across eight years. Enos plays Reynolds' wife; Dawson an investigating officer.
The prestige: Cannes may not have hosted Egoyan's last two films, but the festival has remained pretty loyal to the director through thick and thin. This is his sixth time in Competition. The first two were his most successful, as “Exotica” took the FIPRESCI prize in 1994, and “The Sweet Hereafter” did the same — plus, more importantly, winning the Grand Prix — in 1997. “Felicia's Journey” (starring the late Bob Hoskins) was a slight step down, but still met with respectable reviews; “Where the Truth Lies” (2005) and “Adoration” (2008) didn't set pulses racing either.
The buzz: Despite Egoyan's strong history at Cannes, this isn't a film everyone was expecting to show up in the lineup. Early responses I've heard suggest the film is straightforward, effective genre fare, if not especially remarkable. At this point, coming off the rough critical reception for “Devil's Knot” at Toronto last year, that would count as a win for Egoyan, even if the film isn't necessarily deemed worthy of its Competition status.
The odds: Long, for all the reasons stated above.Jury president Jane Campions knows as well as anyone the challenges of transitioning from art film to thriller — but still. like “Fair Game,” “Killing Them Softly” and “The Paperboy” before it, it's hard to imagine her panel deciding to throw their full weight behind this. Jigsaw Lounge lounge has it bringing up the rear with odds of 40-1, which sounds about right to me. Best Actor for Ryan Reynolds? Never say never, but…
Next in Cannes Check, we'll look at the latest from the true veteran of the lineup: Jean-Luc Godard's “Goodbye to Language.”