Friday, February 23 , 2018, 6:48 pm | Fair 53º


Cinema in Focus: ‘Captive’

3 Stars — Challenging

There are a handful of things we cannot live without. Like water and air to the body, we can only live a few days or weeks without hope. Somehow we can struggle along without love in our life, or a lack of faith, but without hope our life comes quickly unraveled and feels destroyed.

Captive brings to the screen the true story of Brian Nichols, who is serving a life sentence for murder, and the transforming power of hope that was the result of his hostage, Ashley Smith, sharing a passage from Rick Warren’s book, The Purpose Driven Life, while he held her captive.

This is a sobering portrayal of a tragedy that forever changed the lives of a murderer and his hostage.

Atlanta was paralyzed for 26 hours in March 2005 while a citywide search sought to find the man who had just murdered a judge and three other people in his courtroom and during his escape.

For hours, Nichols (David Oyelowo) held up in the apartment of Smith (Kate Mara), whom he had taken captive to steal her car. The 26-year-old Smith was living out her own tragedies, having lost her husband to a drug murder and her young daughter due to her own meth addiction.

When she was taken hostage, the book she had in her possession was The Purpose Driven Life by the renowned pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest. It had been given to her by her drug recovery group leader earlier that week.

Ironically, Smith, who was still using drugs, had tried to dump the book in a garbage can, but it found its way back to her the next day.

While the story takes numerous twists and turns, the message that it portrays is clear: Every life is redeemable.

In a postscript at the end of the movie, Warren shares with the real Smith (who is now a recovery counselor) while they are both on The Oprah Winfrey Show, that two lessons come from this story: “First, that you don’t have to be perfect to be used by God, and second, no matter how bad your problems are, God’s purpose is bigger  Everybody is looking for hope, and that’s what the book’s message is pointing toward.”

It is a fitting irony that Oyelowo, who plays Nichols, became famous last year for portraying, in the film Selma, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., one of the most noted men of the 20th century who brought hope to the nation. King’s Ebenezer Baptist Church is only blocks from the courthouse in Atlanta where Nichols committed murder while claiming his life to be hopeless.

At one point during the hostage situation, Nichols asks Smith if she has any drugs to help “calm himself down.” She admits that she had meth in the house and lays it out for him. He offers her the first snort of the drug, and at that point a transformational event happens in her life.

She later recounts that at that moment she thought to herself, “If this is now the time that I am going to die and meet God, I don’t want to ever think it was when I was high on drugs. I refused to use the drug that night, and I never have again.”

The next morning Nichols asked Smith to read to him from her book. Having never even looked at the book before, she opened it to a passage about every person’s life having a purpose, and that this purpose gives us hope.

Nichols proclaimed that he had no hope, at which point Smith reminded him that he had a newborn son he had yet to hold. Did he want to leave this world never having fulfilled his purpose of being a father?

Being a parent had taken a back seat in Smith’s life to that of the drug addiction that now ruled her life, but after proclaiming a parental gift to Nichols, she knew what she needed to do.

She told him that she would no longer disappoint her own daughter and she intended to leave at that moment to go to her daughter’s school play. Nichols was so sobered by this conviction that he let her go.

An hour later, after the freed Smith had alerted the police to Nichols’ whereabouts, he was surrounded by police officers who were ready to take him down with force. The lead detective, John Chestnut (Michael K. Williams) asks Smith to speak to him over their microphone, and as she repeats the message of hope she had read about earlier, he surrendered and walked out.

Today, Nichols is serving a life sentence without possibility of parole, but he hopes that someday before he dies he will meet his son. Smith has remarried and now has four children, and is a drug rehabilitation counselor.

In both of their lives, hope was a transforming gift.


» Is there a moment in your life where you ever felt hopeless? To whom did you turn for help?

» Have you ever given counsel to another person who felt hopeless, and did you share your own story or your own faith?

» Everyone is seeking to fulfill a purpose in their life. What is yours?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is a former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church, 1435 Cliff Drive. For more reviews, visit, or follow them on Twitter: @CinemaInFocus. The opinions expressed are their own.

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