Hostage (2005) / Action-Thriller
MPAA Rated: R for strong violence and language
Running Time: 113 min.
Cast: Bruce Willis, Ben Foster, Jonathan Tucker, Marshall Allman, Kevin Pollak, Jimmy Bennett, Michelle Horn, Serena Scott Thomas, Rumer Willis, Kim Coates
Director: Florent Siri
Screenplay: Doug Richardson (based on the novel by Robert Crais)
When Robert Crais' novel came out, several book critics made the observation that it played as if it were written to be a movie. Years later, it finally is -- just not a good one. The biggest problem for Hostage isn't the fact that it is a wholly derivative "family under siege" thriller, but that its director, Florent Siri (director of The Nest and a couple of the "Tom Clancy: Splinter Cell" games) wants to make it something entirely different -- a horror-thriller. If Siri had just stuck to fundamentals, his film would have probably been just a mediocre retread of Panic Room, The Desperate Hours and other films in a similar vein. However, by going for deeper, more horrific chills, Hostage is so far removed from the realm of reality, that it becomes one of the most laughably bad movies of its kind.
The opening scenes of Hostage deal with LAPD hostage negotiator Jeff Talley (Willis, Tears of the Sun) failing to save the day through some errors in judgment that would continue to haunt him long afterward. In fact, he would leave that job entirely, becoming a police captain in suburbia, in the fictitious town of Bristo Camino, where you'd think that life would be a little quieter and a little less dangerous. Here, three teenage boys decide to hold up the household of a "rich bitch" classmate, only to botch the job by getting found out by the police all too soon. When one of the boys ends up shooting and killing a nosy police officer, all bets are off, and the family is taken hostage in order for the boys to try to bargain their way out. As complicated as it is with all of the police surrounding the house, the boys have also unwittingly put an associate of some serious baddies under gunpoint, and with evidence of many past crimes in the house, the local underworld affiliates are a bit nervous about the prospect of their operations, kept in the form of a DVD, being found out. These bigger fish respond by taking Talley's own family hostage to ensure that their interests are taken care of, putting Tally in a tightrope situation where the slightest mishap will mean the end of two innocent families at once.
One can see in the main plot that Hostage tries to be more than a standard family hostage story by upping the ante a bit, having the hostage investigator himself attempting to bargain several sides in order to reach an amicable conclusion for all, including the chance of sacrificing the people he is sworn to protect in order to save his own wife and daughter. It's an interesting idea in theory, but as played out here, the results are far less than satisfying.
From the moment you see the opening credits, the look of this thriller, which should have looked and sounded like Cellular or The Negotiator, instead emulates darker, more somber thrillers, like Cape Fear. From then on, it appears obvious that Siri is going to stay with his neo-horror vibe, making his villains the epitome of evil incarnate, instead of the two-bit novices they are supposed to be. Throughout the movie, you'll be counting the clichés, coming from other features, including Panic Room, Die Hard, and even Home Alone. In fact, the only thing that makes Hostage feel different is the misguided style of its director, who by every appearance, seems completely bored by the whole premise of his movie that he has to direct it as if he were doing a different project altogether. Why is the lighting so dark? Why is every teenager in the film Goth? Why are there religious and tarot symbols liberally strewn about? Why the hell am I bothering asking serious questions about a movie so awful?!
With ridiculously overwrought music and grandiose slow-motion shots, Hostage proves to be an exercise in directorial masturbation, subjecting us to a man utilizing a major motion picture to experiment with his craft whenever possible. If Siri finds the material so boring that he needs to pump up the volume and overcook the thriller elements to the maximum degree, where does that leave us? Just like one of the characters in the film, Siri is so unsure what to do, he chooses to "burn it" down, hoping that all of these techniques he employs will make is blind to the fact that there really isn't much of a compelling story here.
The next time someone chooses to make another house under siege film, let's hope that the director chooses to do what so very few have done before -- give us some character development before putting them in front of a loaded pistol. Hostage is nothing but a film that twists and turns its way into a circle, and which travels the worst route possible in the process. If I were taken hostage and forced at gunpoint to watch this movie again, I'd gladly take the bullet.
©2005 Vince Leo