Preachy hostage drama that squanders the talents of David Oyelowo and Kate Mara
Oh Lordy. What starts as a potentially tense hostage thriller turns into a preachy evangelical drama about faith and redemption. Based on a true story, it recounts the 24 or so hours from the moment in 2005 that convicted rapist Brian Nichols (here played by David Oyelowo) shot up an Atlanta courtroom, killing the judge and several others in his escape, and becoming the object of a massive manhunt. In his flight he grabbed Ashley Smith (Kate Mara), a young, widowed meth addict who had lost custody of her daughter and was losing her struggle against addiction when Nichols held her captive in her apartment over a long night.
According to Smith, in her book about her ordeal, Unlikely Angel, from which this is adapted, much of the night was spent by her reading to Nichols from religious self-help book The Purpose Driven Life by Pastor Rick Warren. You don’t know which of the two to feel sorrier for.
Director Jerry Jameson is an 80-year-old former editor whose directorial credits mainly consist of episodes of Murder, She Wrote, Dr Quinn, Medicine Woman and Walker, Texas Ranger. Unsurprisingly, this plays out exactly like the myriad cheesy real-life sagas that unfold every afternoon on the True Movies channel, and it certainly looks as cheap (the biggest manhunt in Atlanta history is represented by a single helicopter).
The real mystery is what in thunderation Oyelowo and Mara are doing in this (as well as Michael K Williams – the mighty Omar of The Wire – as the lead investigator in pursuit of Nichols, and Mimi Rogers as Ashley's concerned aunt). The pair are committed and watchable – he both menacing and pitiably sad, she as jumpy as a meth-head would be, but inspired by love for her daughter and the message of that book to survive the night and get her life on track. But there’s no depth to their confined relationship, or any real reason for Nichols to do what he finally does. Guess he liked that book a whole lot better than we did.
Any goodwill accrued by the performances is tossed when the end credits give us the real Smith and the book's author Warren being icky on Oprah. Faith-based tales of inspiration seem to have an audience in America but this is unlikely to fly here.
General release from Fri 25 Sep.