Atom Egoyan is a perennial favourite at the Cannes Film Festival, where his movies have screened in competition half a dozen times, but the Canadian filmmaker's latest earned withering reviews today on La Croisette.
Toronto-based Egoyan premiered The Captive at the French Riviera fest and the psychological drama starring Canadian Ryan Reynolds garnered thumbs down from a wide range of international film critics.
Starring Reynolds and Mireille Enos as parents of a young girl who is abducted, The Captive jumps back and forth across many years, weaving together the couple's story with that of their daughter, her kidnappers and a pair of detectives searching for the girl.
"As a straight procedural, this might have worked if Egoyan did not try the audience's patience and insult their intelligence with how utterly implausible his drama is. But line by line, scene by scene, it is offensively preposterous and crass," read a review from The Guardian.
Hailing 1997's award-winning The Sweet Hereafter as perhaps Egoyan's best film, the Hollywood Reporter described The Captive as potentially his worst.
"The director renders an already bogus story more preposterous by lathering it in portentous solemnity; misguided loyalty to competition alumni is the only explanation for the film's presence in the Cannes lineup," the industry publication noted.
"The plotting here is so hopelessly tangled, clichéd, and bereft of psychological complexity that it's difficult to care what happens to any of these people."
The film is "hamstrung at every moment by its inability to reconcile its creaky B-thriller trappings with its artier inclinations," added Variety, another industry paper.
"This ludicrous abduction thriller plays like an ill-advised assembly of tropes and themes from Atom Egoyan's highlights reel."
Many writers could not help comparing Egoyan's film with fellow Canadian Denis Villeneuve's recent child-abduction drama Prisoners.
"Retreading Prisoners territory to an extent that at times makes you wonder if they’re two parts of some sort of Canadian auteur experiment that no one else is in on, what is lost in the transfer, however, is any of the Villeneuve film's subtlety or shading," according to Indiewire.
"We are left only with its most lurid, credulity-stretching highlights, with all other textures blasted out to snowy blankness."
No pretense with Egoyan, says Reynolds
Nevertheless, Vancouver-born Reynolds raved about working with Egoyan on The Captive on Friday.
"There's no kind of pretense when you're working with him. He really wants the best performance, in whatever that might look like," the 37-year-old actor told CBC News.
"He observes rather than evaluates everything, if that makes sense. A lot of directors evaluate each moment. He just observes it and lets it happen and, because of it, he gets great performances."
Egoyan is one of three Canadians competing for the festival's top prize, the Palme d'Or. Fellow Torontonian David Cronenberg is also vying for the prize with his Hollywood tale Maps to the Stars, as is Quebec's Xavier Dolan for his latest, Mommy.
A host of other Canadians are also unveiling new work out-of-competition at Cannes and in sidebar programs.
Praise for Dragon sequel
Meanwhile, another Canadian did earn kudos at the French fest on Friday: Quebec-born animator and filmmaker Dean DeBlois.
His new animated film How to Train Your Dragon 2 — featuring the voices of Montreal's Jay Baruchel as well as America Fererra, Kristen Wiig, Jonah Hill, Kit Harington, Gerard Butler and Cate Blanchett — is not competing for a prize at Cannes, but the DreamWorks Animation sequel nonetheless earned positive reviews from critics.
"Braver than Brave, more fun than Frozen and more emotionally satisfying than so many of its live-action counterparts, Dragon delivers," according to Variety.
The Hollywood Reporter called the animated film, which comes four years after the hit first instalment, "technically stunning and touchingly perceptive about the relationship between people and animals."
The Cannes Film Festival continues through May 25.