Captive State is a great film. Although not perfect by any means, it executes some good ideas and feels dense but not necessarily in a bad way. It most certainly had enough going on to keep me interested, and clocking in at nearly two hours, it doesn’t drag at any point.
The movie takes place in a future dystopia and begins with an alien arrival and occupancy of Earth. The extraterrestrials — derogatorily dubbed “Roaches” by many a disgruntled enslaved human — have taken over and formed a global government known as the Legislature. They are stripping the earth of all its natural resources with the help of the police and other humans who are willing to cooperate to obtain wealth and safety. But there’s a group of rebels called Phoenix who are planning an attack against the alien government.
The story follows two brothers, Gabriel (Ashton Sanders, Moonlight) and Rafe (Jonathan Majors, White Boy Rick), as they navigate the alien-infested world in the Pilsen neighborhood of what used to be Chicago. Rafe, the older brother, is one of the leaders of Phoenix who is presumed to be dead. The Pilsen police commissioner (Kevin Dunn, HBO‘s “Veep”), who works for the Legislature, chooses to believe that Phoenix has been wiped out, but Detective Mulligan (John Goodman, in a perfectly menacing and deceitful role) keeps a close eye on Gabriel in the hopes that he will lead him to Rafe.
Mulligan discovers some old-school means of covert communication between members of Phoenix. Being “offline” plays a big part in the film, because the aliens can monitor all forms of electronic transmissions, and the lower-class citizens must find ways to keep themselves and their plans hidden from the Legislature and Captive State‘s particular twist on Big Brother. The low-tech subterfuge was one of my favorite concepts within the movie, and its defiant ends play out nicely.
Stemming from those underground efforts, a second-act rebel attack takes place with some great caperlike proceedings. Things don’t quite go according to plan, but the third act is where the grand scheme fully starts to unfold and reaches its intriguing potential as the web of insurgence grows more complex than first expected.
Does that mean in the end everything gets explained? Well, I think so, but I’d like a second viewing to say for sure. While character development may be thin, you must remember that this is a thriller, and at the end of the day, it delivers.
Review by Casey Ellis