Judge Dylan Charles says this isn't your run of the mill "bus full of passengers taken hostage" flick. For one thing, Sandra Bullock is not—I repeat, not—in it.
"In your own land, people will exploit you to the bone. In a strange land, they will devour the bones as well."
The hijackers and hostages sub-genre can be handled very poorly. They often have cardboard, generic terrorist types filling the shoes of the hijacker and hostages who are nothing more than shriekers waiting for the man with the big chin to come bursting through the door to save them. Still, a few films manage to shake things up a bit, such as Spike Lee's Inside Man. Hostage also falls into this category.
Facts of the Case
Based on real events, Senia (Stathis Papadopoulos) is a young Albanian living in Greece. He has been robbed of his honor, feeling mistreated and desperate to show that he is a man. He takes a busload of passengers hostage, demanding half a million Euros. Friction builds between the hostages themselves and Senia, while outside of the bus police work to find a way to stop the crisis.
Hostage starts in the middle of things, kicking off with the Senia taking control of the bus. His reasons for doing this are shown bit by bit throughout, revealing a layered character who is far more complex than the stock cardboard terrorist.
He is at times kind, other times tragic; a single person trying to show that he is a man, that he's worth something. Time and again he tells his hostages and the police that he's a man. He's not just a faceless immigrant, not just another Albanian looking for work. He was, as he says, loved by his neighbors. His hostages also display that same depth, their personalities and pasts revealed as the incident progresses. We are allowed glimpses of who these people are, from the housewife who leaves behind a tearful husband and son to the firefighter who seems to have a connection with Senia.
This is the part of the movie that I liked the most: the gradual unfolding of the characters. Hostage doesn't tell us why Senia is doing this until near the end of the movie. Through flashbacks we see his life in Albania before he left for Greece, his time working as a gunrunner. Without this depth, Senia would have just been another loony with a gun and Hostage would have fallen by the wayside as yet another terrorist-take-hostages flick.
Hostage has a kinetic energy that, for the most part, works. But there are times when it zipped off and left me in the dust, before pausing to let me catch up once again. Particularly in the beginning, there was spate of jumps from the past to the present and to the present in a different location that was disorienting.
My other problem comes partially from my complete lack of knowledge about the setting. I'm not Greek and I'm not an Albanian living in Greece. I know Senia's motivations for doing what he's doing—that is fully revealed by the end. But I'm missing the larger picture and the point that director Constantine Giannaris is trying to make about how Albanians immigrants are treated in their new Greek homes. Giannaris shows us snippets of the racism and corruption that an Albanian might face, and he also shows the Greek point of view in those same brief insights, but he left much unsaid.
The making-of featurette included on the disc isn't worth watching until the last ten minutes. For the most part it's just shots of rehearsals set alongside shots from the movies while the actors talk about their characters' motivations. I was hoping for more information on the event that inspired this movie, but that's what Google is for.
When I first read the synopsis for Hostage I was worried I was in for the Greek version of Speed. Instead I found a film that had a lot more in common with Dog Day Afternoon than anything else. Hostage is a gritty urban dramas, drawn taut and tense, allowing little time for the audience to truly relax. And it's populated with characters who exist as people rather than as set dressing. This one is definitely worth checking out.
Hostage is found Not Guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Koch Lorber
• Theatrical Trailer
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