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Movie Review

About 2:30 in the morning on March 12, 2005, Ashley Smith made a fateful decision: to go out to her car looking for cigarettes.

Hopped up on meth as she unpacks boxes in her small, suburban Atlanta apartment, this struggling single mother (whose young daughter, Paige, actually lives with her Aunt Kim) needs something to take the edge off her amphetamine-fueled mania.

Things weren't always so desperate for Ashley. Once upon a time, she was much happier as a wife and a mom. That was before her husband was murdered. Since then, life's been anything but happily ever after as Ashely's struggled with (or mostly just succumbed to) a life-consuming appetite for drugs.

It's not like Ashley hasn't tried to come to grips with her addiction. A few days before, she even went to a Celebrate Recovery meeting, where a friend gave her a copy of Pastor Rick Warren's book The Purpose Driven Life. But that was more than Ashely was ready to deal with, so she threw it in the trash. Part of her really does want to recover. But another part, the part that likes being high, isn't quite ready yet.

Then, in that lonely, addicted, desperate place in the parking lot, Ashley's life is changed forever by someone whose situation is even more desperate than hers.

Brian Nichols is on the lam after breaking out of Atlanta's Fulton County courthouse prior to his trial for allegedly raping an ex-girlfriend. In the process he kills four people—including the judge, the court reporter and a police officer. When he spies Ashley, he sees someone he can use to help him lie low until the heat on him dissipates.

Brian manhandles Ashley back into her apartment, taping her up and throwing her around roughly. But as the next seven hours unfold, something unexpected happens: The killer begins to talk. And Ashley listens.

Brian says he didn't commit the crime for which he was about to stand trial. "I didn't rape anyone," he insists. "My lady cheated on me with a minister from our church." Ashley relates her own pain that comes from being mistrusted and misunderstood. "My family doesn't listen to me, either," she says. "They think I'm a liar. They don't trust me."

As unlikely as it seems, something like trust is born between captor and captive. He untapes her. She fixes him pancakes. They keep talking.

Even more unlikely is what happens next: She starts reading Warren's book … out loud. You see, after Ashley rudely round-filed the tome, her friend dug it out of the trash and got it back to her. And when Ashley somewhat absentmindedly picks it up, Brian instructs, "Read it. Read it to me."

And so a drug-addled single mom and her murderous kidnapper both receive this message about living a purpose-driven life: "It all starts with God."

[Spoilers are contained in the following sections.]

Positive Elements

Early on, it's clear that Ashley's haunted by being (rightly) deemed an "unfit mother" due to her drug addiction. She says at the Celebrate Recovery meeting that she thinks she can control it—but that she always chooses to "do it again and again and again. I just can't stop." Ashley's addiction isn't a positive thing, of course, but the film uses it to show her becoming aware of how that habit is destroying her life. She realizes how much it's damaged her relationship with her daughter, Paige, and she's now trying to restore trust with Paige and Aunt Kim.

Once Ashley's abducted, Captive becomes a case study in determination. After initially freaking out (as anyone would) about being taken hostage in her own apartment, Ashley begins to talk to her tormentor. While the film never tries to minimize the crimes Brian has committed, it does give us a glimpse into his utter despair due to being wrongly accused (he says) of a crime that threatened to send him away to prison for 25 years. Ashley listens to his story and, to some extent, wins his trust. As such, we see Brian not as a two-dimensional caricature of a criminal, but as a desperate man who's made terrible, destructive choices.

The police official tasked with pursuing Brian and bringing him in is Det. John Chestnut. And he rightly uses Brian's new status as a father to try to convince him to surrender. "I met your son today," Chestnut tells him over a police radio Brian has stolen. "A son is something to be proud of, truly one of life's blessings. … It would be a tragedy if you never got to meet Christopher."

Though Brian initially rejects Chestnut's logic, it's clear he's motivated by wanting to do right by his son despite the violent choices he's made. At one point, Brian calls the boy's mother and leaves a message for his son (which he instructs the mother to relay to him when he's old enough), saying, "Christopher, it's your daddy. … I just want you to know I loved you," even though he also admits he's done some "bad things."

Brian eventually lets Ashley go. And police soon surround the apartment. When they're unable to convince Brian to come out without a fight (or killing himself), Det. Chestnut gives Ashley one last shot at talking to him. "Brian," she says, "It's Ashley. I came back. it's not too late, Brian. Brian, there is purpose in your life. It's time. Do the right thing, Brian." And so he does, surrendering without a fight.

Spiritual Content

The woman at Celebrate Recovery who gives Ashley that copy of The Purpose Driven Life emphasizes that breaking the bonds of addiction is something that happens "one day at a time" and that it requires trusting God to "make things right" as we surrender our will to Him.

After Ashley begins reading the book to Brian, we hear, "It starts with God. It's not about you. You must begin with God." That's all Brian can take at first. He orders her to stop, saying, "That's a bunch of church crap." He labels church leaders "con artists and hustlers." He says his father took him to church every Sunday, but that the man was a mean drunk the rest of the week.

In a separate reading session we hear, "God deserves your best. He shaped you for a purpose, and He expects you to make the most of what you've been given." When Brian spits bitterly, "I haven't been given anything," Ashley counters, "You've been given a son." Ashley goes on to read sections of the book that say, "The greatest tragedy is not death, but life without purpose" and, "When life has meaning, you can bear almost anything. Without it, almost nothing is bearable."

Brian asks Ashley, "If I were the one who killed your husband, could you forgive me?" She responds, "I don't know. But maybe God can."

We see a real-world clip of The Oprah Winfrey Show featuring Ashley Smith and Rick Warren. Two phrases stand out from the interview: "You don't have to be perfect to be used by God" and, "No matter how big your problems are, God is bigger."

Paige sweetly tells her mother on the phone, "I'll say my prayers for you. I love you." Police question Brian's mother, who tells them, "I'll be praying for you."

Sexual Content

Ashley wears a belly-baring and otherwise revealing spaghetti-strap top for much of the film. And when Brian throws her down on her bed, she begins to fear that he's going to rape her. They later talk about the accusations of rape he's facing, and he admits to getting a girlfriend pregnant. We see Brian shirtless after he gets out of the shower. (He puts a towel over Ashley's head so she can't see him.)

Violent Content

Brian hits a female police officer three times in a holding cell, knocking her out. We witness him shooting and killing his judge, a court reporter and another officer. (Victims are hit and collapse.) We later see him put a gun to another law-enforcement agent's head. (It's reported that the man was murdered execution-style.) He confesses to Ashley that when he shot the judge who was, he says, about to "enslave me, it felt good." Brian carjacks a guy's ride, knocking him down and wounding his head. A second car-theft victim isn't treated quite as roughly.

Brian's treatment of Ashley is initially rough and threatening. He throws her down on her bed, and he tapes her up to restrain her.

Crude or Profane Language

One use of "d--n."

Drug and Alcohol Content

Two scenes show Ashley using meth. We see her chop it and get rows ready to snort. Later, when she's about to dump the drugs in the toilet, she capitulates to the temptation to use again. Though the movie implies that she was definitely happier before her husband's murder, Ashley also hints that her drug habit had started before then and actually played a role in her husband's death. She says he was "stabbed to death by a drug dealer," then adds that it was "all my fault."

Brian rightly suspects that Ashley is high when he kidnaps her. "You got any weed?" he asks. She says no, but says she's got "ice." Brian doesn't know what that is. "Meth," Ashley clarifies. "Well, let's break it out," he says. Brian proceeds to inhale (offscreen) two of the three lines she's cut. After shaking his head and trembling, he begins to shadowbox erratically. He instructs Ashley to do some more of the drug, too. But Ashley prays, "God, please help me," and she refuses, even when Brian threatens to kill her if she doesn't take it.

Other Negative Elements

Brian tells Ashley that his plan is to escape (with her) to Mexico and says they'll need to rob a bank. Thinking he's about to face a violent standoff with police, Brian vomits.


If Captive were a completely fictional movie, critics and fans alike would be tempted to respond by saying, "Nah, that would never happen!"

But it did.

And now the remarkable experience that Ashley Smith chronicled in the 2010 book An Unlikely Angel has come to the screen.

As Christian movies go, Captive has to be categorized as gritty. Director Jerry Jameson gives us an unvarnished look at both Brian Nichols' awful crimes and Ashley Smith's devastating addiction. That said, he's also artfully used restraint in key moments to suggest what Ashley's addiction looks like without fully showing her bondage to it, and to paint the picture of Brian's murderous rampage without indulging in the blood and gore it would naturally produce.

Admittedly, it's a difficult path to walk. Families may feel the film depicts more of Ashley's and Brian's sinfulness than they want to see. But this difficult and dark tale is clearly shown to be a radically redemptive one. How could it not play out that way, after all? It's about two people whose unlikely collision with each other and with God utterly changed their lives.

Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

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Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews



Readability Age Range





Kate Mara as Ashley Smith; David Oyelowo as Brian Nichols; Michael Kenneth Williams as Detective John Chestnut; Mimi Rogers as Kim Rogers; Elle Graham as Paige


Jerry Jameson ( )





Record Label



In Theaters

September 18, 2015

On Video

January 5, 2016

Year Published



Adam R. Holz

Content Caution

We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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