Back in the 80’s writers and directors knew how to make an action/thriller movie with guts to it. By the end of the show you had been on a wild ride well worth the price of your admission ticket. The plot was intelligent and always moving, never limiting to a certain style or genre, challenging you to try and stay one step ahead of the game. Today’s directors pander to studios and audiences with patronizing plots, limp remakes and excessive CGI effects. Then there are some that cling to the good old ways. Hostage is one of them.
Ever had a nightmare where you just can’t shake the feeling that it’s never going to end? You find yourself in a terror that is too horrible to be real, yet you can’t seem to wake up. Each time you think that it’s about to pass, that you’ll wake up and everything will be OK, you come to find things are more real and worse than you thought. Director Florent Siri has captured that sensation, loaded it up with handguns, and Molotov cocktails, and served it up with an exciting and intelligent intensity that's hard to find in most movies today.
Hostage is the story of Jeff Talley, a hard-line, hard-core SWAT officer turned LAPD hostage negotiator (think John McClane from Die Hard, only a little older and a lot more troubled). A hostage crisis gone terribly wrong pushes Talley over the edge and he abandons his position for a much quieter job as chief of police in a sleepy little Mayberry kind of town. He escapes the pressures of his old job, but the ghosts of his past failures follow close behind.
Life in Talley’s quiet, low-crime neighborhood turns ugly when a petty car theft escalates into the death of a police officer. A highly unstable scenario emerges when the young trio of thieves unwittingly barricade themselves in the home of a family man who also happens to manage accounts for an organization who will do anything to keep their secrets safe. Despite his best efforts to turn the haunting matter over to someone else Talley quickly finds himself helplessly intertwined in the most dangerous, volatile and tormenting hostage situation of his life.
Siri uses every cinematic tool at his disposal to create the atmosphere for the film’s real life nightmare. Whether he’s mixing in surreal imagery or toying with the speed at which events are taking place, Siri keeps his characters in a state of psychological limbo, pulling the audience along as he goes. Even the movie’s transitions from one act to the next feel like hoping and trying to wake up from a bad dream.
We’ve known for awhile that Bruce Willis is both a talented dramatic actor and a uniquely entertaining action star. In Hostage he takes things up a notch by combining both into a singularly stunning performance. He doesn’t settle with just giving his finest, he clearly strives to bring out the best in the other members of the cast as well.
The runaway performance of the movie comes from Ben Foster. He holds nothing back in his portrayal of mentally disturbed Mars, the true criminal catalyst for the film’s hostage situation. Over the course of the movie he manages to make you hate, fear, pity and love the troubled character as he steals some of the story’s creepiest and most heartbreaking moments. It’s hard to imagine an action/thriller movie like this winning any prestigious awards for acting, but if it does expect it to go to Foster.
Hostage is not without its quirky faults. Siri’s distinctive style often goes over the edge a bit, creating moments that feel almost silly in their excessiveness. The movie also makes use of techniques and plot devices that feel borrowed from other films. I don’t blame people who are bothered by it, but to me it comes across in a completely different way. The borrowed moments leave a déjà vu impression that only adds to the movie’s waking nightmare qualities. It’s a unique and entertaining film that serves as a reminder to Hollywood that as they can do better than they have been.
These days the turn around time from theatrical release to DVD release is almost ridiculous. Whether studios are trying to hold on to their film’s inertia or dampen the effects of piracy, their sprint to get discs on store shelves is resulting in less and less exciting packages. Hostage is by no means the worst example of this sort of rushed quality, but you can definitely feel the effects.
Desperate to pad the bonus features menu, the folks behind the disc have divided the deleted scenes content into two categories: deleted scenes and extended scenes. The distinction between the two is clear but not big enough to warrant having to scroll through two separate menus. The bright side comes in the form of the director’s commentary. Siri does an intriguing job of explaining his choices for the cuts he made, often pointing out that sometimes it’s important for the actors to get to film a scene even if it’s too extraneous to ever be left in the final cut.
Siri shares more in depth thoughts in his director’s commentary. His accent takes a little getting used to, and for the most part he falls behind the action trying to find the right words, but his occasionally fascinating revelations make it worth a listen. For those who get easily frustrated with ramblin’ style commentaries, don’t give up entirely. I recommend skipping ahead to your favorite scenes. You’re bound to hear something to enhance your enjoyment of the film.
The making-of featurette is where you really feel the crunch of the disc’s rushed release. Thirteen minutes is all you get from Taking Hostage Behind the Scenes. It’s a great thirteen minutes, but they’re just not enough. I was left wanting more and fearing it will come in the form of a collector’s edition double dip in the not too distant future.
The list of bonus features is short enough to be enjoyed during the course of the rental, which I recommend for all but the biggest fans. Save your money kids. While I’m not aware of anything officially announced I expect to see a better DVD release of this film down the road.