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Mario Bautista, has been with the entertainment industry for more than 4 decades. He writes regular columns for People's Journal and Malaya.

Sep 3, 2012

'Captive' Review: An Intense Thriller About Abu Sayyaf Dos Palmas Kidnapping

CANNES FILMFEST 2009 best director Dante Mendoza has crafted an intense thriller about a kidnapping gone wrong in “Captive”. Shot with his usual handheld camera docu-style, it’s loosely based on the 2001 kidnapping at Dos Palmas resort where the Islamic separatist Abu Sayyaf aims to kidnap World Bank execs but end up getting foreign social workers, missionaries and tourists instead.

The movie then becomes an uncertain journey through a five-day voyage on the high seas then in the thick jungles and rugged mountains of Basilan, not only for the kidnappers and hostages but also us viewers as days lengthen into weeks and months following the abduction.

With uncertainty hanging in the air, you feel you yourself is in the middle of the hostage crisis.

As the victims are taken one from jungle site to another on foot, you can feel their weariness and desperation. The hostile terrain and harsh environment where you can really get lost are established as a powerful and dangerous force in itself, with them mercilessly exposed to the elements, what with leeches and bees attacking them.

Their being together for so long even brought some kidnappers and hostages closer to each other. A Chinese girl became enamoured with a terrorist (Neil Ryan Sese). A nurse (Che Ramos) marries the Abu leader (Raymond Bagatsing) and later gets pregnant. French social worker-volunteer Therese Bourgoine (Isabelle Huppert) feels very maternal to a 12-year old terrorist whose wounded foot she even cleans.

One of the most touching sequences in the film is when TV journalist Arlyn de la Cruz (who’s credited as one of the scriptwriters) interviews the missionary couple (Katherine Mulville and Marc Zanetta as the alteregos of missionary Grace Burnham and her ill-fated husband) and they express their pain and sadness for feeling abandoned as no one has tried to rescue them at all. Another touching scene is when Therese wakes up in the morning to discover that her friend Soledad (Rustica Carpio) is already dead. The terrorists want to just leave the body in the forest, but she insisted on giving her friend a decent burial.

The Abu Sayyaf rebels are portrayed as devout Muslims who read the Koran and pray fervently, but they can be ruthless murderers who kill even innocent people, rape women and behead hostages and dead soldiers.

The film also shows the incompetence of the military and the seeming indifference of government people. This is very clear in the hospital scene in Lamitan where the terrorists are allowed to leave quietly along with their hostages.

Mendoza is a filmmaker who doesn’t flinch in tackling moral issues head on, as seen in his previous films like “Serbis”, “Tirador” and “Kinatay”. He doesn’t mind shocking the audience and in “Captive”, he shows a closeup shot of a young mom giving birth while the hospital is under siege and bullets are flying all around them, a scene that illustrates that the birth of a new life goes on even when other people are being killed.

Huppert gives a strong performance as the feisty hostage who is not afraid to be defiant and fight back. She serves as some kind of hook viewers can relate and sympathize with. Angel Aquino also does well as the nurse who represents Ediborah Yap, the nurse killed during rescue operations in real life.

The fine acting ensemble includes Ronnie Lazaro and Mon Confiado among the kidnappers, Allan Paule as a hostage who’s recruited to be an Abu Sayyaf member, and Madeleine Nicolas as a kidnapped woman later released (she’s also in “Bourne Legacy”).

Technical credits are first rate, notably the production design and Odyssey Flores’ cinematography that is certainly a big asset.