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Hostage  (2005)


Starring: Bruce Willis, Kevin Pollack, Ben Foster

Director: Florent Emilio Siri

Rating: R

Distributor: Miramax Films

Release Date: 03.11.05

Review Posted: 03.11.05


By Sara M. Fetters


Hostage Kidnaps Audienceís Goodwill


Veteran LAPD negotiator Jeff Taley (Bruce Willis) is exhausted. All day heís been doing his best to keep a deranged father from killing his wife and child, using every psychological ploy he knows to try to talk the man down. But Taley is running out of both ideas and time, and with this being his third such negotiation in almost as many days the officer isnít sure how much more he can take, melting under both the oppressive Los Angeles sunshine and his jobís stressful duties.


When things finally do come to head, they come down hard, the man shooting both himself and his family before officers can break their way into the familyís dilapidated home. With the manís son dying in his arms, Taleyís had enough, his days doing this kind of work only to see some lunatic go off and slaughter the innocent are over. Heís finished, and as far as Taley is concerned the LAPD will be better off without him.


Few pictures open as well as Willisí latest thriller Hostage. It is a bravura prologue, harsh and cruel and emotionally bruising. It reminded me, of all things, of Sylvester Stalloneís mountain climbing action flick Cliffhanger. That, too, offered up a spectacular preface showcasing a time-honored big screen hero failing miserably where an audience would typically expect them to succeed. Here, French director Florent Siri (making his Hollywood debut) infuses things with a pulsating urgency thatís hard to ignore, creating a palpable emotional subtext crashing mercilessly down upon our protagonist without mercy. Itís brilliant, and from the astonishingly grand opening titles on forward I found myself inching to the edge of my seat in anticipation of a great motion picture.


Unfortunately, Hostage shares another striking similarity with Cliffhanger, and itís one that proves to be its eventual undoing. Like that previous Renny Harlin-directed adventure, Siriís movie goes completely off the rails almost instantaneously. Itís an implausible, callously constructed thriller that manages to shoot itself in the foot nearly every step of the way. Itís disheartening, because the pieces are there and Siri definitely knows his way around the camera, but the script written by Doug Richardson (based on the novel by Robert Crais) is ludicrously silly and just drowns in obtuse melodrama. Itís also unrelentingly brutal, Siri filling the screen with images of such oft-putting misogynistic brutality and unrelenting grotesquery only a sadist could sit and take it for the entire 102-minute running time.


Whatís really sad is that this plot could really work. You see, after his failure in L.A. Taley retreats to a small, quiet Californian community, taking a position as sheriff. Itís the type of place where doors stay unlocked and everyone knows everyone elseís first name. But the quiet is shattered when three young ruffians take a wealthy family hostage in their cliff-side mansion home, killing one of Taleyís officers in the process.


When the State Police arrive, the sheriff is more than happy to turn over the investigation, not wanting to potentially fail another family. What Taley doesnít know, however, is that the owner of the house just happens to be an accountant for the mob and there is a DVD inside that could potentially bring down their entire operation. Soon, masked men have taken the police officer hostage and kidnapped his wife and daughter. Using them as leverage, they want him to go back to the crime scene and reassume command, all so they can enter the house and retrieve their DVD. Taley is forced to make a choice; he must sacrifice the family fighting for survival inside their home in order to protect the lives of his own loved ones. The question is, with what happened in the past is this a choice Taley is really ready to make?


The setup is wonderful, a real B-movie grabber from the word go. So why doesnít it work? For one thing, Siri over-directs like a madman. Like a second-rate John Woo, there isnít a slow motion zoom or an overly-melodramatic montage he doesnít embrace. But whereas Woo is a genius capable, at least in his best pictures (Bullet in the Head, The Killer, Face/Off, Hard-Boiled), of generating heart-wrenching emotion in seemingly the briefest of strokes, Siriís attempts come off as laughably ludicrous. Worse, Richardsonís script doesnít even bother to attempt anything even close to character development leaving the actors with virtually nothing to play.


Not that they donít try. Both Jonathan Tucker and Marshall Allman are just fine as the two brothers dealing in differing ways with the results of their actions, while veteran character actor Kevin Pollack has some genuinely winning early moments as the accountant father at the center of things. Itís Ben Foster (TVís Six Feet Under), however, who makes the most lasting impression. As the third of the three invaders making Taleyís life a misery, heís a greasy, messed-up misanthrope whose every action is a violently obtuse mystery. In all honesty, the script is so thin I canít really say how good Foster is as an actor, but he so thoroughly looks the part of the deranged madman I couldnít help but be creeped out. Like the psychotically monstrous lovechild of Marilyn Manson and Ozzy Osbourne, Foster has malevolent presence guaranteed to unnerve, and itís more than unfortunate that neither Siri nor Richardson can manage to make anything worthwhile of him.


Willis, too, is just fine as the beleaguered Taley. While the character isnít a stretch for him, the actor still makes the sheriff both sympathetic and believable. The problem is that the movie isnít worth either his efforts as an actor or our efforts as filmgoers. Clichťs collide with unbridled abandon and implausibility upon improbability compound upon the other with such ferocity this house of cards canít help but collapse. Itís a waste, Hostage not even worthy of being late-night fodder for an insomniac looking for something to just pass the time.


Film Rating: Í1/2  (out of 4)


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