a critiQal film review Hostage (2005)

Plot: A year ago, Jeff Talley (Willis) was a hostage negotiator in LA, until a hostage situation went horribly wrong. Now, he's a sheriff in a small California town when 3 people break into wealthy accountant Walter Smith's (Pollack) home. Smith's shady employers have a vested interest in a certain DVD within the house - and they have also kidnapped Talley's wife and daughter to give him an extra incentive to get it back.

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  • ...despite some cookie-cutter roles, this one will keep the viewer a willing hostage right up to the end.

Bruce Willis has been a favorite actor of mine since Die Hard (1988), and I’m glad to see he’s back on the A-List in Hollywood. After his career was revitalized with the brilliant The Sixth Sense (1999) (and his divorce from Demi finally done with), he’s gotten a second chance at staying in the big show – and seems to be picking better roles…which is what Hostage looked like.

These roles (like Hartigan from Sin City (2005)) showcase the same Willis we’ve always known (he rolls with the punches for the most part – until you get to the hard interior. Once you get to that point, look out, ’cause Brucie’s coming for you – and nothing is gonna stop him). In addition, his characters now seem to have a world weariness about them that gives them a deeper impact on viewers – making some of his performances today better than anyone could have imagined back during his first peak.

Hostage looked to be another typical Willis film – not that there’s anything wrong with that. The more of those films he makes, though, the more tired the public will become of him again. He found that out the hard way back when Die Hard with a Vengeance (1995) turned into Die Hard Without A Clue.

So, my first thought was that Bruce might have already hit his peak the second time around, and might be slowly sliding back out of the mainstream. With high hopes that Bruce wasn’t on his last leg yet (but with a twinge of doubt in the back of my mind), I sat down to check out his latest flick, Hostage, on DVD.

In the beginning of Hostage, Bruce enters the picture covered in more hair than the audience has seen him since before 12 Monkeys (1995) – not only a head of hair, but a full beard covers up most of his face. Before the audience really gets to tune in on this new Bruce (and wonder why the toupee looks so fake), he’s gone…and old baldy is back. Apparently hair covers up his acting presence a little bit, because once he shaves it off, Bruce turns in another good performance, and really brings the part home for the audience.

Bruce brings a persona to the part like most actors do, but the difference in Bruce’s case is he doesn’t let his persona (i.e. ego) overrule his acting abilities. Arnold Schwarzenegger eventually let this happen to him, counting on his fans to pull him through no matter what (thus, the fall of Last Action Hero (1993)). Bruce did let his persona rule for a while, but had to reevaluate when his fan base dwindled. Thankfully, he was able to put his ego under control and actually get back to acting with a vengeance (no pun intended).

In Hostage, he puts his all into the character, and really does a great job of relating his character’s emotions to the audience. The viewer struggles with him as he tries to make the tough decisions that are thrust at him. He’s always had an easy camaraderie with the camera, gaining the viewer’s interest almost without seeming to, and that shines through again here.

The other characters seem to be rather less well-developed than Bruce’s Jeff is. Some of them are easily reduced to emotions: conflict/rage for one character, loyalty sums up another…sure, the viewer gets a little involved, but more because Bruce’s performance brings the characters to life more than the plot of Hostage does. Despite that, the other performers do a good job with what they’re given – it’s only unfortunate they aren’t given a little more to work with.

The plot of Hostage insinuates itself into the viewer’s head by posing an interesting question: are the lives of your family more important than the lives of others? Would you be willing to stand by and let someone die if you thought your family might die if you tried to interfere? Most would immediately side with their family, but would they be able to live with themselves if they just stood by and let something happen? It’s a tough call – and an immediate draw for the audience.

How will the script work out this situation? What do they consider to be the best choice? The viewer will just have to wait for the end to find out. And once they are hooked, Hostage digs it’s claws in deeper and doesn’t let go until the finale. It throws in a few twists and turns along the way that add to the suspense as the viewer waits to see how those surprises wrap up as well.

Unfortunately, as the film nears it’s climax, the action turns more video-game-ish, with the protagonist having to face down evil personified. It does keep the suspense high, but ruins a bit of the realistic quality to the film. In other words, Hostage becomes just another action flick by it’s conclusion – albeit one with a great buildup of suspense. They really could have done a lot more with the buildup they had created, but apparently the creative juices had run dry before the time came to wrap things up (here’s wondering whether the novel by Robert Crais ends in the same fashion – or if it is video-game director turned film director Florent Siri finally showing his roots).

Bruce Willis has picked a great character to play (although the hairy Bruce may want to remain under wraps in future films – c’mon, Bruce talking to a hostage-taker while combing his beard? Doesn’t work for me. Thankfully, that disappears after the first scene and ol’ chrome-dome makes a triumphant return). He almost single-handedly keeps Hostage from turning into just action for action’s sake. He gives this action flick a deeper connection to it’s audiences than most action flicks tend to aim for…and leaves the viewer better off because of it.

Rent or buy this suspenseful thriller today: the film, despite some cookie-cutter roles, will keep the viewer a willing Hostage right up to the end.

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