Hostage (2005)

18 Mar

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Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“Hostage” could be seen as another entry in the “Die Hard” series, seeing as how it is an action-thriller starring Bruce Willis, but you’d be wrong. On the one hand, it’s gripping, suspenseful, and well-made. On the other hand, it’s grim and dark (as opposed to the excitement among the violence in the “Die Hard” movies) with a much more conflicted Willis character than his infamous action-hero character John McClane. Instead of being the “fly in the ointment,” the “monkey in the wrench,” or the “pain in the ass,” Willis plays a troubled person stuck in a situation he was hoping never to fall into, after a similar terrible experience a year ago. (No, this isn’t a sequel.)

The film opens as LAPD hostage negotiator Jeff Talley (Willis) is called upon for a scene in which a madman endangers a mother and child. After trying to play it calm, his method doesn’t work, resulting in the deaths of each. One year later, we see that Talley has left the city and joined the police force in Bristo Camino, where he is police chief. He feels extreme guilt over the lives he could have saved that year ago and finds himself better off serving in a community where nothing much happens. His biggest concern as of now is dealing with his unhappy wife Jane (Serena Scott Thomas) and daughter Amanda (Rumer Willis, Bruce’s real-life daughter), who only live with him “part-time.”

Meanwhile, an accountant (Kevin Pollak) is driving his kids (teenage Michelle Horn, grade-schooler Jimmy Bennett) home from school when he is spotted by three teenage thugs who decide to steal his car. They follow him home and sneak in to steal his keys. The intruders are Dennis (Jonathan Tucker), his brother Kevin (Marshall Allman), and their companion Mars (Ben Foster). When they’re inside the house, what seems like a simple robbery turns into something else, as the accountant is knocked unconscious, the two kids are held hostage, and Mars shoots a patrolling cop, thus bringing the whole police force on the scene and leaving Talley to have to deal with it. Talley does what he can until someone else takes over in authority, but it turns out that there are darker matters at hand, as members of the mob hold Talley’s wife and daughter hostage. They will let them go if Talley deals with the situation involving the other hostages.

OK, so maybe I could have done without this second plot thread, as the scenes involving the three interlopers and the two young hostages are tenser. By comparison, this other element is still pretty tense, but doesn’t do the credibility of the rest of the film that much service. As a result, the final (inevitable) showdown between Talley and these other criminals just seems sort of ordinary. I will give credit, though, that they do connect with the story of the accountant, who is also there for the showdown as well. So, it’s not pointless. But it is somewhat unnecessary.

How “Hostage” handles the messed-up situation involving the three guys and the two hostages is quite effective. For one thing, they don’t make the little boy (Bennett) into a whining boor—he’s resourceful and quick enough to grab his sister’s cell phone, sneak through the air ducts, and make secret calls to Talley (after seeing him on TV), to give him helpful information. Although, I have to ask—how come nobody checks up on the kid to make sure he hasn’t escaped his room?

What I really liked is the original treatment given to the three teenage crooks. Dennis is the hothead of the group, making sure he’s the one in charge of the situation and covering the fact that he’s a scared kid. Kevin is the nervous conscience who didn’t want to go along with this plan in the first place, and is stuck with nothing to do about it, other than hope no one gets hurt. Mars, on the other hand, is a complete psycho. He has a tendency to act first and think later, and he has a criminal record. The reasons as to why things go from bad to worse are because of his actions.

Bruce Willis is outstanding, playing a much different version of the heroic cop that made him a noticeable action star in the “Die Hard” movies. You can totally buy him as this tortured cop looking for redemption and finding it in yet another near-tragic position. He completely sells the drama portrayed with this character. You enjoy spending two hours watching him sort through everything that occurs in “Hostage,” a gripping, nicely-done thriller.

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