Bruce Willis returns to the big screen with new testosterone
Friday, March 11, 2005
by Alex Stroup, MousePlanet editor
Let's just get this part out of the way: Hostage
is not a movie you want to take your kids to. If you object to language,
then three f-bombs in the first 10 seconds will keep you away. If you
object to violence, there are plenty of dead people on graphic display.
If drug use will keep your kids out of a theater, there are a few instance
of marijuana use. For everybody else, Hostage provides 90 minutes
of hostage movie goodness.
Unfortunately, the movie is 110 minutes long.
Director Florent Siri initially provides intense visual style and pacing
that combines well with the elements of a story by Doug Richardson (based
on the novel by Robert Crais) that has enough elements to keep the ultimate
resolution in the shadows. Then it all goes downhill, or rather it goes
completely over the top, at which point it loses much of the audience.
Bruce Willis stars as Jeff Talley, a burnt-out L.A.P.D. hostage negotiator
who packs it in to become the police chief for a suburban canyon community
north of Los Angeles. Unfortunately, he ends up facing that which he was
escaping. When three young punks invade the home of Walter Smith (Kevin
Pollak) to steal his car, things go wrong and a hostage situation is in
© Buena Vista Pictures Distribution.
Things are much worse than they seem, though, since Smith is a bit of
a shady dealer and some very important bad people want something that
is stuck in the house. To make sure they get what they want, they take
Talley's wife (Serena Scott Thomas) and daughter (Willis' real-life daughter
Rumer Willis) hostage and provide instructions, which at odds with the
welfare of the hostage Smith and his two children.
The hardest thing to achieve in hostage movies is uncertainty. In all
but the rarest cases the viewer knows that all will end well. The setup
for Hostage provides enough elements and competing interests to
keep the possibility of a bad ending alive and even if it ends well, there
is always the question of how well.
This suspense is built by the visual flair of Siri, who keeps the pace
active without any wasted scenes. The parallel of the amateur situation
at the Smith household with the extremely professional operation against
Talley's family gives each an additional impact. There is much that is
done well in Hostage; unfortunately, most of the movie's missteps
can be placed squarely at his feet as he fails to maintain a consistent
tone, and doesn't seem to know when to say, OK, that's too much.The
first example of this hits you right away.
The opening credits for the movie are gorgeously rendered, computer-generated
stills of police and other people dealing with a hostage situation. It
is a wonderful sequence
for a different movie. The comic-book feel
of the credits creates an expectation of whimsy and unreality that conflicts
badly with the harshness of what follows. The overall quality of the movie
wiped this uncomfortable shift from memory until the closing credits brought
it back and I was left wondering what Siri's intent could possibly have
More importantly, Siri again loses the thread on the movie's tone and
style when during a key confrontation, we're suddenly watching a John
Woo movie with all-knowing, slightly superhuman bad guys engaged in choreographed
gunplay, backed by swelling music and presented in slow motion. One brief
moment of religious symbolism is so blunt, so unsubtle, that it comes
very close to destroying the whole movie on its own. Fortunately there
is a bit left after that so Siri has time to pull it back in a bit and
reclaim some credibility.
Among the adults in the movie, Willis is the only one asked to do any
acting, but it is a role he has down (even if just a month ago he said
he was sick of testosterone-packed filmsand has recently signed
on for a fourth Die Hard movie) and he doesn't expand on it. The
three children mostly get to look scared, though Michelle Horn makes a
good impression as Smith's 17-year-old daughter facing some pretty freaky
behavior from one of their captors. The professional bad guys remain literally
nothing but black masks throughout the movie so there is nothing to distinguish
one from the other.
That leaves the three young intruders at the Smith home as the only real
source of character interaction, and it is here where the film works best
but also goes most overboard. Dennis and Kevin (Jonathan Tucker and Marshall
Allman) are brothers, and Dennis isn't such a good influence on Kevin.
Making things worse is a Mars (Ben Foster), a strange new friend of Dennis,
who is constantly escalating Dennis' bad behavior. There is a sense of
reality in watching Mars lead Dennis down a bad path with Kevin getting
sucked along in their wake.
Eventually, though, the three are painted into too tight a corner and
misused to advanced the movie.
If you liked movies such as The Negotiator (1998) or the inferior
Metro (1997) then you'll certainly enjoy Hostage. If you
prefer a hostage movie with a bit more introspection, perhaps like Dog
Day Afternoon (1975) or the inferior Mad City (1997), then
you'll probably be turned off by the moments when things turn from suspense
to action. If you consider Airheads (1994) the epitome of the genre,
then there's probably no helping you.
Thoughts, questions, or comments? Contact Alex here.
Hostage is a Miramax Pictures release
Wide theatrical release: Friday, March 11, 2005
Directed by Florent Emilio Siri.
Screenplay by Doug Richardson.
Starring: Bruce Willis, Kevin Pollak, Jimmy Bennett,
Michelle Horn, Ben Foster, Jonathan Tucker, Marshall Allman.
Rated R for strong graphic violence, language and some
Running time: 113 minutes.
Alex's Rating: 7 out of 10.
Alex Stroup is a degreed librarian with an undergraduate degree in history. An avid reader, movie buff, and devoted information junkie, Alex currently lives and works in the Northern California Bay Area. Alex is also the CEO of MousePlanet.
Click here to contact Alex.