Lionsgate // 2005 // 113 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // August 22nd, 2011
Every second counts.
"Yeah, kid. I'm gonna save you."
For many years, Jeff Talley (Bruce Willis, Die Hard) was one of the most esteemed hostage negotiators in Los Angeles. However, after he lost control of a particularly volatile situation, Talley decided to drop his high-pressure job. Now he's the police chief of a small town that rarely has to deal with anything more than speeding tickets and convenience store robberies. Alas, the relative peacefulness is shattered when three violent teenagers (Ben Foster, 3:10 to Yuma; Jonathan Tucker, The Ruins; and Marshall Allman, True Blood) invade the home of mob accountant Walter Smith (Kevin Pollack, The Whole Nine Yards) and his children Jennifer (Michelle Horn, Family Law) and Tommy (Jimmy Bennett, Star Trek (2009)). Soon, Talley finds himself thrown back into the world of high-pressure negotiation he thought he finished with. Can he resolve the situation without any innocent people getting killed?
Considering the weary apathy Bruce Willis has demonstrated toward his profession in recent years, it's no surprise that he's most effective when he's playing the tired, run-down, too-old-for-this-crap sort of role. Though films like Surrogates, 16 Blocks, Sin City, and Hostage don't exactly qualify as modern classics, they're all films that manage to work around Willis' seemingly self-imposed limitations and make him seem as if he is actually putting in a real performance.
Willis is a good choice for Hostage, as his low-key sensibilities mesh nicely with the wilder fireworks director Florent Emilio Siri (even his name is colorful!) scatters throughout the film. It's an atypically stylish outing considering the gritty nature of the material, as Siri's direction frequently approaches the, "Hey, look what I can do!" flourish of Brian De Palma. To be sure, this is nothing more than a middling B-movie elevated just a little by some impressive technical virtues, but it's a whole lot more engaging than it should be.
Midway through, the film's plot takes a turn that simultaneously aids and damages the proceedings. Though I won't spoil the specifics of what happens, there's a new subplot introduced that puts the Willis character between a rock and a hard place by forcing him to deal with two hostage situations at once. While this initially amps up the intrigue and brings some suspense to the proceedings, it ultimately proves a somewhat distracting element. Disappointingly, this new development allows the more compelling "creepy teenagers holding lovable kids hostage" element to take a backseat to a less interesting "anonymous masked men holding anonymous characters hostage" plot strand.
Though Hostage offers a handful of compelling character touches, it does have a frustrating tendency to treat its characters as plot devices. The most prominent example of this is the Kevin Pollack character, who seems like a rather interesting guy early on (genuinely loving dad who just so happens to do illegal contract work for some very nasty people), but the film quickly proceeds to render him unconscious and only returns to the character when Willis has a practical use for him (interestingly, most of these practical uses don't require Pollack to be conscious). Still, the acting is solid across the board even when the script falters, and Ben Foster contributes yet another of his scene-stealing performances as the most psychotic of the three angry teens.
For my money, Hostage's primary virtue is the score by Alexandre Desplat. Few films made during the past decade have benefited so considerably from the music they contain. Desplat begins with a strikingly elegant main title theme, as a hypnotic melody (something of a fusion between Jacque Loussier's Dark of the Sun and Danny Elfman's Batman) joins forces with the cooing vocals of a boy soprano. The film's scenes of intense violence are not underscored with the usual mayhem, as Desplat brings a more classical, melodically-driven sense of darkness to his music. It was an attention-grabbing effort of the highest order, and it's no surprise that Desplat quickly became one of Hollywood's busiest and most well-regarded composers in the years that followed.
Hostage arrives on Blu-ray sporting an attractive 1080p/2.35:1 transfer. Daytime scenes have a lot of pop (and the animated opening credits sequence looks fantastic), while nighttime scenes (which dominate the film) benefit from solid black levels and strong shading. Grain can become a tad distracting at times, but this is certainly preferable to having a transfer marred by excessive DNR. A few shots look a little soft, but this happens infrequently enough that you might not even notice. Audio is strong throughout, save for a few dialogue scenes that seem a bit quieter than everything else. One of the reasons the score works so well is that it isn't drowned out by the sound design of the film (something that is basically par for the course in modern action flicks) and actually gets to carry some pretty chaotic scenes. Still, the moments of gunfire and explosions have a good deal of punch and will give your speakers an appropriate workout. Extras are borrowed from the DVD: a commentary with the director, an EPK-style featurette entitled "Taking Hostage" and some deleted/extended scenes.
Hostage kind of falls apart as it chugs along, but it's still a modestly engaging Bruce Willis vehicle with some considerable technical merits. The Blu-ray looks and sounds respectable.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 113 Minutes
Release Year: 2005
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Deleted/Extended Scenes