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Hostage (2005)

Would you sacrifice another family to save your own?

Directed by:

Florent Siri

Rating: 6/10

Running Time: 113 minutes

US Certificate: R UK Certificate: 15

Country: United States

It is now exactly two decades since TV’s ‘Moonlighting’ first launched Bruce Willis into stardom, and ‘Hostage’ offers a convenient overview of his career to date. For if Willis was destined to become Hollywood’s first bald hero, here we get to see him transform from long-haired beardo in the opening scene to sleek slaphead for the rest of the film – and he also goes from the cocky action man of his earliest successes to the haunted mumbler revealed in Terry Gilliam’s ‘Twelve Monkeys’ (1995) and M. Night Shmyalan’s The Sixth Sense (1999) and Unbreakable (2000). Like the real Willis, his character here is estranged from his wife, and has a teenage daughter (played by Willis’ actual daughter, Rumer). Most conspicuously of all, though, ‘Hostage’ is filled with the spirit of Willis’ best known franchise, the ‘Die Hard’ films. Not only is it adapted (from Robert Crais’ novel) by Doug Richardson, who scripted ‘Die Hard 2’ (and the forthcoming ‘Diehard 4.0’), but it also features Willis as a cop left alone to save his wife from ruthless criminals – and even has him racing through a building full of flames and shattered glass.

Wracked with guilt after a mother and her young son are killed in a siege which he was handling, Jeff Talley (Bruce Willis) quits as LAPD’s prime hostage negotiator, and takes a job as police chief in the low-crime town of Bristo Camino. There two teenage brothers and their psychotic companion Mars (Ben Foster) follow wealthy accountant Walter Smith (Kevin Pollak) and his two children home, intending at first just to steal the family car – but things get messy, a policewoman is shot, and the Smiths become hostages in their own high-security home, surrounded by police. All too happily, Talley leaves the siege to the County Sheriff – but then a shadowy group of criminals abducts Talley’s estranged wife and daughter, threatening to murder them unless Talley resume command and retrieve a disk hidden in the house. The situation both inside and outside spirals rapidly out of control, but Talley knows a thing or two about negotiating under pressure – and he has a hostage of his own.

‘Hostage’ is Florent Siri’s first English-language film, but the experience that he has acquired directing French siege actioner ‘The Nest’ (2000) and the ‘Splinter Cell’ video game franchise is put to good use in this taut psychological thriller. Like the recent remake of Assault on Precinct 13 (also directed by a Frenchman), ‘Hostage’ takes a plot that is pure cinematic cliché – police officer is haunted by, and ultimately redeemed from, past error – and introduces some wildcard characters and chaotic subplots to bring the much-needed element of surprise. Once you have had time to think about it, ‘Hostage’ is full of gaping holes. How, for example, do the three burglars fail to register that one of their (two) captives has escaped? What are the police thinking and doing for the second half of the film as they stand outside the house? Why exactly do the criminals need Talley’s help so much? And who in their right mind would possess two DVD copies of ‘Heaven Can Wait’? Yet Siri’s trick is to keep the story, set for the most part over a single night, moving at such a breathless pace that its sheer momentum carries it over the most glaring implausibilities, at least temporarily – and his decision to frame the film with animated credit sequences (in noirish black, white and red) seems to be a knowing nod to the film’s cartoonish quality.

It's Got: A group of ruthless criminals desperate to get their hands on a copy of Heaven Can Wait.

It Needs: More originality, more plausibility.

Alternatives:

Albino Alligator, Assault on Precinct 13, Assault on Precinct 13, Die Hard, Panic Room, The Negotiator

Summary

Tense, if flawed, siege thriller which proves that Bruce Willis' old habits die hard.

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