Hostage (United States/Germany, 2005)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Hostage represents Bruce Willis' latest attempt to produce a thriller with the kind of broad appeal exhibited by his most successful big-screen endeavor, Die Hard. The largest potential drawback to enjoying this movie is getting past some of the plot's implausibilities. For those who manage to achieve this, Hostage offers two entertaining hours. Or, to put it another way: accept Hostage for what it is, and a flawed-but-enjoyable ride awaits. I never once glanced at my watch.

Willis plays top LAPD hostage negotiator Jeff Talley, who removes himself from the big city after two victims (including a child) are killed on his watch. A year later, he is the chief of police in Bristo Camino, a small Ventura County hamlet. Nothing much happens there, which suits Jeff fine. His biggest worry is dealing with the unhappiness of his wife, Jane (Serena Scott Thomas), and daughter, Amanda (Rumer Willis, Bruce's real-life daughter with Demi Moore). They dislike Jeff's new lifestyle so much that they only live with him part-time, and "part-time" is even too often for Amanda. Then, when a suspicious vehicle is spotted outside the gated house of an accountant (Kevin Pollack), everything changes.

Inside the house, the accountant is lying motionless on his living room floor while his daughter, Jennifer (Michelle Horn), and son, Tommy (Jimmy Bennett), are being held hostage by three interlopers: Dennis (Jonathan Tucker), Mars (Ben Foster), and Kevin (Marshall Allman). An investigating police officer is shot and killed - an event that brings the entire Bristo Camino police force on the scene, plus a lot of help from the outside. After handling the initial contact with the hostage-takers, Jeff willingly turns over reigns of authority - until he discovers that there are darker goings-on than the crisis at hand.

The secondary plot-thread bogs down Hostage a little. While this aspect of the film amps up the tension, it does so at the expense of credibility and drama. Hostage tries to give us access to the interaction between the three inexperienced criminals (none of whom trust one another) and their victims, but it is shortchanged. Also, the final showdown is a little disappointing in its ordinariness. But there are some nice elements. For example, Tommy is played as an ingenious boy (not the stock dullard of movies like this) who provides a stream of useful information to Jeff via cell phone calls. And a dog gets whacked, which almost never happens in major motion pictures.

Although understandable, comparisons to Die Hard are misplaced. Hostage is a different kind of movie, and Jeff is nothing like John McClane. This character isn't a wisecracking fly in the ointment, he's a tortured individual looking for redemption. Jeff is an interesting enough individual that a drama could have been constructed around his life if the thriller elements hadn't intervened.

Director Florent Siri has burst upon the North American scene with a flourish. His sense of scope is impressive - he is fond of tracking and aerial shots. There's one scene in which the perspective changes from one car to another at an intersection, then switches to a third car as the second one passes it on the road. This is done seamlessly, giving us a sense that the lives of the characters are intersecting before the main action begins.

Hostage works in much the same way that Assault on Precinct 13 succeeds. Once the viewer has become immersed in the film's world, it no longer matters that real-world conventions are being flouted. Hostage has suspense and momentum, it takes some chances (the murder of a child during the prologue indicates that the film isn't squeamish), and, in Mars, it has a creepy villain (who appears to be designed, at least to a degree, using the mindset of the Columbine killers). The climax, while conclusive, offers little in the way of a true catharsis, but that's in keeping with the overall downbeat tone. Hostage works on its own terms, and, if you're willing to accept them, you'll enjoy spending these two hours with Bruce Willis.

Hostage (United States/Germany, 2005)

Run Time: 1:53
U.S. Release Date: 2005-03-11
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence, Profanity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1