For almost the entirety of Captive State, Mulligan is a morally ambiguous antagonist with unethical methods but an understandable motive: preventing the destruction of so-called peace and the rest of the world. He's not the big bad of the film, and as we discover in the end, he's actually its greatest hero. All his crimes are committed for the greater good. Mulligan, it turns out, isn't a police officer who's capitulated to the alien overlords, known as Legislators; he's actually one of the rebels working deep undercover, taking risks and making sacrifices at every turn the large ensemble film -- which co-stars Vera Farmiga (Bates Motel), Alan Ruck (Succession), and James Ransone (IT: Chapter Two) -- takes.
The reveal of Mulligan's true motive is when Captive State achieves its emotional weight after a propulsive 110 minutes in which characters are constantly in motion, to the point that some of them drop out of the narrative for long stretches. The twist completely alters the perception of everything we see leading up to the rebel attack against on the aliens, which may or may not kickstart an uprising or all-out war. Mulligan has a hand in taking down members of the resistance one by one, searching high and low for them and using Gabriel's connections to find them. The dominant authority figure shows little mercy or remorse, only hints of it. Then, Gabriel learns from a video of a party shot shortly before his birth that Mulligan is on the side of the resistance. We see the happy man Mulligan used to be, and who the other rebels were once upon a time. They were school teachers, cops, and friends, all good people hopeful for Gabriel and the future.
The complex narrative and ultimate twist is surprisingly similar to a favorite film of Wyatt's. "It was a tough film with an emotional undercurrent, because everything's happening in the moment," the director says. "Strangely, I find a very moving film -- obviously because of the ending, but the rest of it is not -- [to be] Jean-Pierre Melville's Army of Shadows. Just following the different members of the French Resistance, and in the end you get the sense of what is at stake: what the sacrifices are that have been made, not only for country, but for the family, for themselves. And it has a real emotional impact by the end of the film."
Wyatt, who began shooting the Chicago-set film almost two years ago, didn't immediately recognize the similarities between the emotional ending of his movie and Army of Shadows. "In this film I became increasingly aware, 'Oh I'm doing something quite similar here, because I'm putting these characters in very high-stakes situations, but there's no other time to sit down and discuss them,'" he says. "There's also not a lot of backstory in figuring out who these characters are. They don't really bring that to the table. By the end, you get a sense of why this or that happened and why they made the choices they have. John Goodman's character, in many ways, is the engine that drives the movie."