‘Captive State’ Is a Sci-Fi Miniseries Condensed Into a Two Hour Movie

Captive State” is science fiction for adults. Mixing elements from the BBC “MI-5” TV series, any version of “War of the Worlds,” “Wired” (another great TV series), “District 9” and any number of World War II films of the French Resistance, screenwriters Rupert Wyatt (who also directed) and Erica Beeney wrote a complex sci-fi thriller about political expediency, compromise, courage and family devotion.

Centered on both sides of the conflict, the story takes place in Chicago’s inner city, detailing the humanity of the resistance, the collaborators and the vast indifference of the silent majority. With telling focus, short scenes can read like entire sequences in defining the corruptive despair of those who have chosen to resist.

The film begins with the ill-fated escape attempt of a police officer, his wife and two sons. The United States, as well as the rest of the world, has surrendered unilaterally to an overpowering Alien force. All military forces have demobilized. The puppet governments have taken control. A small handful, like the fleeing father, hold out hope for freedom. The parents are disintegrated; the sons are left alive.

Nine years later, only one of those boys, Gabriel Drummond (Ashton Sanders) has survived. Rafe (Jonathan Majors), the older brother, is reportedly dead, having died heroically in a sabotage attempt on an Alien seat of power in Chicago. Though, having joined a rebel group, Gabriel has little interest in the resistance. He just wants to escape from the city with his girlfriend Rula (Madeline Brewer).

John Goodman plays William Mulligan, the law officer assigned with unifying humans against alien invaders in the Chicago neighborhood of Pilsen. Individual surveillance has moved beyond cameras and recordings. Everyone has a bug implanted in his or her person, allowing Mulligan and his crew to not only identify the target but also trace their every movement. Mulligan has a particular interest in the movements of young Gabriel, as the Drummond father was his partner in their former cop life.

We are exposed to a handful of the Alien conquerors at a distance. We see only four close up. For the most part, they are omnipresent overlords heard speaking commands to translators. They fly about in massive spaceships resembling detached cliffs.

There is enough story in this movie for a mini-series. Most films of this nature will focus on a small handful of main characters and follow a straightforward narrative of the invasion, the repression, and maybe the ultimate victory. That is not what happens here. Plotwise, the heart of the movie is a resistance attack on a so-called Unity gathering in Soldiers Field. Like a classic heist film, the narrative guides us through the preparation, the set up, the execution and the punishing aftermath. But bookending this is the ambiguous encounters between Mulligan and Drummond.

The acting throughout is superb and in part because their characters, no matter how briefly they might appear on screen, are given much to work with. The story of the Jane Doe hooker (well played by Vera Farmiga) is profoundly tragic for what she has compromised in service of her cause.

With most tentpole science fiction, the biggest question the audience is left with is how the next sequel is going to end. Instead, “Captive State” offers richness to those who pay attention. And, while the film may take its time getting started, the rewards are many for those who stay with it until the poignant end.

Captive State” opens March 15 in theaters nationwide.