Review: Cleveland Abduction
The story of 21 year-old single mum Michelle Knight (Taryn Manning) who accepts a lift from casual acquaintance Ariel Castro (Raymond Cruz) that has dire consequences for Michelle. She’s meant to be attending a scheduled custody hearing for her son, but Castro offers to give her a puppy from his house to give to her son for a present, and that she’ll make the appointment with time to spare. When he gets her to his house, however, Castro instead knocks her down, ties her up, and locks the door behind him. She’s now there for Castro to use in any degrading manner he wishes and there’s not a damn thing she can do about it. Over time, two other girls will also be abducted and held prisoner by the depraved, soulless Castro with seemingly no hope or a way out in sight. Joe Morton and an ancient-looking Pam Grier have brief cameos at the end as an FBI agent and nurse, respectively.
I’m sort of a true crime/serial killer fanatic (in the least creepy way possible, I swear!), so I tend to see any film about a real-life serial killer case. A lot of them are TV movies like this 2015 flick from director Alex Kalymnios (a veteran director of TV’s “EastEnders”) and writer Stephen Tolkin (1990’s crap “Captain America”, but more importantly the excellent miniseries adaptation of Dean R. Koontz’s “Intensity”). It’s based on the book by Michelle Knight (played here by Taryn Manning), she was the 21 year-old single mum and first victim of Ariel Castro (played by Raymond Cruz), the sicko who kidnapped her and two other girls and locked up in his house to use and degrade as he saw fit.
Right off the bat I think they’ve got the central casting completely wrong. In addition to not looking even remotely like the real Knight (she’s too thin and tiny for starters), Manning was 36 at the time and definitely doesn’t look 21 or even close to it. What’s worse, though, is the manner in which Manning (far from my favourite actress) chooses to portray Knight for at least the first half of the film. She gets a little better by the midway point, but in the initial stages, Manning adopts her caricatured approach to character playing that sees her as the weakest member of TV’s “Orange is the New Black” cast. She overdoes the dumb hick, and thick nerdy glasses schtick (and that fake wig ain’t fooling anyone) to the point where you can’t even remotely take her seriously. And believe me, this is one story you want to be taking grimly seriously. I just don’t think Manning is a capable enough actress for such heavy drama, and although she eventually drops the nerdy woman-child schtick a bit towards the end (and finally picks up a pair of glasses that more closely resemble Knight’s- why the Poindexter glasses for the rest of the film?), it’s far too late.
Better is Raymond Cruz as the cruel and unfeeling Ariel Castro. At first I thought Cruz was wearing a fake beer gut, but for the most part his performance is just straight ahead inhuman. This Castro guy’s light switch was not operational in the slightest, he was a true sociopath. It’s a poor waste of Joe Morton and the rarely seen Pam Grier, which is unfortunate. Both have functionary roles, and cameos at that so I’m not sure why either bothered to turn up here unless the money was fantastic.
The film’s chief asset is that for a TV movie, it doesn’t really sugar-coat things much. It’s not graphic, but you know exactly what’s going on here. Although we clearly see that Castro was a sick fuck with no human being inside of him, the film seeks to mostly honour the victims, whilst most of these films tend to focus more on the criminal. So not only does the film go about as dark and disturbing as a TV movie can (which admittedly, still isn’t terribly explicit), it also does more to paint a picture of the victims than is usual for this type of thing, which you can really only commend the film for, no matter Manning’s caricatured acting approach.
This is neither the best nor the worst film of its type. Like a lot of these things it’s watchable for those inclined, but a poor central performance from a miscast Taryn Manning really holds the film back from being a success. It’s just OK at best.