As much as we critics try to get people to see artful and interesting movies, there are people who will only go to four movies a year, chosen on the basis of genre, star, and number of guns. Hostage, starring Bruce Willis and a lot of guns, may be one of those four for some of my friends.
But Hostage is not my cup of tea. This tea gives me a headache. It’s made from caffeine, testosterone, adrenaline, gasoline, and a lot of blood. It was effective in giving me a buzz, but it wasn’t a feeling I liked.
Workable Hostage Story
R for Graphic violence, language, drug use
After a novel credit sequence that looks like a freeze frame from a video game, we are launched into an introductory set piece. Bruce Willis is Jeff Talley, a hostage negotiator trying hard to keep his perp talking and his charges alive. But the situation turns sour and Jeff is devastated. The whole scene is written to demonstrate that Jeff is no longer the man he once was.
Nowadays he works as an officer of the peace in a sleepy little bedroom community. At work his main concerns are the dress code and people using the copier for personal use. At home, he lives a lonely life apart from his wife and daughter. Their marriage is on the rocks and his teenage daughter hates him. If you can’t see where the movie is going with this, you need to see more movies.
All this changes — naturally — when three teens take a man (Kevin Pollack) and his two children (Jimmy Bennett and Michelle Horn) hostage. Another cop responds to the silent alarm at the Smith house and is shot by one of the teens. Jeff tries to rescue the downed officer, and as soon as possible, calls in the county Sheriff for backup. “Backup” is actually the wrong word, since Jeff wants to hand off the volatile situation to somebody else, somebody younger and more gung-ho.
Already this is a workable hostage story, but screenwriter Doug Richardson (working from a novel by Robert Crais) takes it even further. Mr. Smith had some sort of shady dealings with someone. And whoever these people are, they badly want a disc that’s in the Smith home, and they need it soon. They kidnap Jeff’s wife and daughter, threatening to kill them if Jeff doesn’t take over the crime scene and somehow sneak out the disc.
“Ducts. Why Is it Always Ducts?”*
Hostage is very movie-ey, from its kinetic opening sequence to the aggressively mood-setting music (Alexandre Desplat tries to convey the weight of a Bernard Herrmann score while staying within the modern Hollywood “film score” symphonic sound) The plot just won’t stop, and action movie cliches abound. There’s no mistaking this film for reality. Stylistically, that’s an acceptable decision, but Hostage carries it a little too far.
The movie convention that’s hardest swallow is the elaborate duct system in the Smith house that allows little Tommy to move around. It’s required by the plot, but it is just too ridiculous to swallow. A close second is the fact that Willis’ movie marriage is on the brink, just as it was in Die Hard, 17 years ago. It wasn’t enough that his character cracked from the stress of losing two hostages as a negotiator, that today he was shot at as his friend and colleague died in his truck, or that his family was kidnapped. Yeah, what this movie needed was a little more drama.
But I have to admit that the movie is effective. It jangled my nerves. I left the theater on edge, and not just from the coffee I sipped. The movie is full of gunshots, blood, and adrenaline. Unstable people have itchy fingers on triggers, so we are always tense and nervous. Although the story isn’t completely engaging, it is hard to ignore the stress of the situation.
So in a way, and for some people, that’s a recommendation. Hostage is good at what it does. It’s just not the kind of thing that everyone will want to have done to them.
* Sigourney Weaver, Galaxy Quest