HOLLYWOOD (Christian Examiner) -- There aren't many movies that leave me thinking, "Wow, I wish that had lasted a bit longer."
But such is the case with the new faith-based thriller "Captive" (PG-13) which opens nationwide today and is based on the true 2005 story of escaped prisoner Brian Nichols, who murdered a judge and three others and then took a woman by the name of Ashley Smith hostage in her Atlanta apartment.
It was only after Ashley read her captor excerpts from Rick Warren's "The Purpose Driven Life" and began talking to him about spiritual matters that she gained his trust. Eventually, he let her leave the apartment and drive away.
Kate Mara ("24," "House of Cards") plays Ashley Smith, and David Oyelowo – who was nominated for a Golden Globe for his portrayal of Martin Luther King Jr. in "Selma" – plays Nichols.
Both are outstanding in "Captive."
This is not the typical Christian movie – more on that in a moment – but it's also not the typical biographical film, which often struggle to be engaging when the audience already knows how it will end.
"Captive," though, excels despite the fact we know Smith eventually will be released. It also excels even though we know she is going to read him Warren's bestseller. Much of that is due to the fine skills of Smith and Oyelowo, but it's also because the film is fast-paced and intriguing, and because it includes details that those of us who failed to read Smith's book ("An Unlikely Angel") didn't know.
I suspect the movie also succeeds because we can see a bit of ourselves in Smith or even Oyelowo, two broken people whose lives intersect on a tragic day in which the power of God's Word triumphed.
In the movie, Smith is anything but a church-going, Bible-reading saint.
In fact, in the film she's someone who is struggling to overcome a meth addiction and who has been separated from her young daughter due to her drug use. Given a copy of "The Purpose Driven Life" by a well-meaning Christian lady early in the movie, Smith tosses it in the trash.
But there's a reason the film's producers flashed a Bible verse on-screen before we even saw the first scene. It was Romans 5:20: "Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more."
Smith was an unlikely hero that day in Atlanta. After all, who except God would have chosen a meth user essentially to witness to a runaway murderer in a high-profile crime? The Bible is filled with examples of God using scarred, broken people like her. It's a gigantic picture of grace.
Nichols is plotting his getaway in "Captive" when he grants her permission to read a book, as long as it's out loud. So she begins:
"It's not about you. The purpose of your life is far greater than your own personal fulfillment, your peace of mind, or even your happiness. ... If you want to know why you were placed on this planet, you must begin with God. You were born by his purpose and for his purpose."
Nichols doesn't like it.
"That's a bunch of church crap!" he responds. "My dad went to church every Sunday and he was a drunk."
She doesn't argue with him, but it's obvious his soul is churning with conviction. He earlier had acknowledged it "felt good" to commit the murders.
Later, she reads more of the book out loud. He then asks her a probing question about her and her husband, who was killed years earlier by a drug dealer.
"If I was the one who killed your husband, could you forgive me?" he asks.
"I don't know," she responds solemnly, unsure. "Maybe God can."
This is where I would have enjoyed seeing the film extended by perhaps five minutes, watching the two of them discuss his past and his "demons" (he had told her he's possessed by one).
"Captive" does not have any course language or sexuality, but it does contain a few elements that viewers should know about. We actually see Nichols shoot the people he murdered, and we also watch her, and later Nichols, take meth.
Mara, as Smith, also wears a belly-revealing shirt for much of the film.
But, overall, the approximately 90-minute film is well-worth the price of admission and easily one of the most inspiring movies I've ever seen. Smith's story is one of grace, courage and forgiveness and one that all Christians should embrace.
Entertainment rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars. Family friendly rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars.