Tuesday, June 21, 2005


Hostage is based on a popular novel by Robert Crais, so it has one of those twisty, complicated, high-concept kind of plots that sounds appealing to guys about to get on a trans-continental flight. See if you can stay with me here...

Bruce Willis plays a hostage negotiator in LA. Something goes wrong, he feels guilty, and he moves with his daughter and wife to Ventura County to become a local police chief.

In the small town where he lives, some hooligans break into a lovely home owned by single dad Kevin Pollack and his two kids, a young son and teenage daughter. When a cop shows up doing a random check, the hooligans freak out and start shooting, taking the family hostage.

Okay, so far, seems like a solid set-up for a movie. Willis' negotiator is shattered, can't focus, can't concentrate, needs to do the job but doubts his own abilities. So far, I was totally with the movie. It's intense, it's well-made (a bit flashy for my tastes, but solidly constructed and it looked nice), Willis is always fun to watch in this kind of role. You know, reasonable entertainment.

But Crais' ever-malleable narrative is just getting going. It turns out, Pollack has something really valuable in his house that some shady underworld figures are trying to get their hands on. They, in turn, kidnap Willis' family and hold them for ransom - if he'll use his authority to get their compact disc out of the house, they'll let his family live.

And as if that weren't enough, the film keeps piling the complications on. The house is outfitted with a Panic Room-style security system, giving the young thugs the upper hand in much of the early negotiating. Then there's the inevitable power struggle among the hostage-takers, Willis' clash with the other authorities trying to wrest control of the investigation and even one of those "take the shot"/"don't take that shot" arguments that, by law, appears in every movie featuring snipers.

Things really get out of control by the overblown action conclusion, which I guess the filmmakers felt they owed Willis' core audience but which really wasn't neccessary in this sort of film. One of the hostage-takers suddenly turns into the elite badass mercenary from hell, assaulting the SWAT team with gasoline bombs, kidnapping girls at will, and seemingly unharmed by conventional weapons.

By the time the entire house has gone ablaze and Willis is plunging through flaming thesholds with several family members attached to his back, I was basically all done with Hostage. It starts off with some amount of B-movie promise - an intriguing set-up, the willingness to explore intense scenarios involving gory violence and the threat of even more gory violence against women and children, the cooperation of Bruce Willis, who rode these sort of roles to stardom.

But it loses its nerve, or at least its belief in its own abilities as a suspense movie. Believability kind of breaks down, the structure sags and gets sloppy, and the movie just starts to fray at the edges. Also, as I said before, the direction is way over doen. Director Florent Siri, along with the well-received French film Nid de Guepes directs the Splinter Cell series of video games, so he's got the timing of the action sequences fairly down pat (and also shots of a guy sneaking around a corner to disarm another guy...all that looks fine). But as you'd expect from a video game guy, the storytelling isn't quite where it should be.

1 comment:

justin said...

I just watched this. And wrote about it. You must read. Now.