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HOSTAGE

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Bruce Willis, Kevin Pollak, Ben Foster, Jonathan Tucker
Director: Florent Siri
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Miramax
Features: See Review
Length: 113 Minutes
Release Date: June 21, 2005

“From this point on…YOU control what happens to them.”

Film ***1/2

How ironic that more than fifteen years after Die Hard made him an action superstar, Bruce Willis would make a similarly themed action thriller that’s just as effective. Not only does this mark Willis’ return to the action genre, but this is one of the most ingenious and well executed films of its type to come around in some time. Despite its title, this owes more of its value to the old school action thrillers of the 70s.

The perfection of the film comes from a neatly textured doubled-layered plot. Following one of the most visually engaging opening titles I’ve ever witnessed, we are thrown head first into the mind of its lead character. At the beginning, L.A. hostage negotiator Jeff Talley (Willis) is hard at work trying to calm down a suspect who’s holding his wife and son hostage in their home. In spite of Talley’s best efforts, the incident doesn’t end on a happy note.

As a result of the tragic event, Talley has relocated to the small community of Ventura a year later. He is the sheriff of the town, clearly illustrating that he wants to never obtain the level of responsibility of a hostage negotiator ever again. And with L.A. drawing too much on his guilt level, residing in a smaller town seems much fitting. He still has domestic problems to deal with, as the communication level with his wife (Serena Scott Thomas) and teenage daughter (Rumer Willis, Bruce’s real life daughter) isn’t as high as it should be.

Meanwhile across town, three hoodlums track a family’s ride home. The young hoods, Dennis (Jonathan Tucker), his brother Kevin (Marshall Allman) and the creepy Mars (Ben Foster), have the simple plan of jacking the father’s nice ride. They trace the family to their hillside home, which ranks as one of the most incredible looking cribs I’ve seen in any single movie. One look at it and you’ll understand what I mean.

The three quickly break into the home, escalating into a hostage situation. After the fatal shooting of a cop sent to inspect a silent alarm, the situation attracts the attention of the police, with Talley leading the command. As day turns into night, the situation will turn more deadly for Talley, as there seems to be something a bigger element at hand concerning an entirely different group of thugs.

Just as he turns matters over to the resident hostage negotiator, a group of masked men corner Talley in his van. They give him simple orders; retrieve something for them from within the house that is of importance to them. If he fails, his wife and daughter, who have already been taken hostage by them, will be killed.

As it turns out, the father of the family held hostage in the home (Kevin Pollak) is an accountant who has been unknowingly handling accounts for some unsavory people. He has encrypted the related files onto a DVD, which is the very item the men holding Talley’s family want retrieved. Via cell phone, he contacts the youngest member of the family, Tommy (Jimmy Bennett), and helps him to obtain the DVD in question. Talley doesn’t like that he’s having to put another kid’s life in danger to save his family, but he simply asks the boy to help him, and he does.

The suspense only intensifies as the movie progresses. As tensions mount between the captors inside the house, Talley’s own predicament seems uncertain in terms of how it will turn out. And believe me when I say that the final thirty minutes, complete with a pulse pounding chase scene in an air duct within the home as it is slowly burning to the ground, will have you gasping for quick air.

French director Florent Siri has made a terrific first feature. Siri, as it turns out, comes from the video game world, as he directed footage for two games of the Tom Clancy-based series, Splinter Cell. Judging from the magnificent title sequence, that purely evident. Siri is no doubt a lover of action thrillers of yesteryear, and his camerawork is nothing short of incredible, as he helps plunge the viewer, face first, into all of the terror by way of the lens.

For Bruce Willis, Hostage is yet another career highlight. This has already been quite a year for the actor. In addition to his powerful turn in Sin City, Willis has delivered one of the most emotionally powerful performances of his career. It’s quite a character for any actor to portray, to be already guilt-stricken by a past incident and having to deal with an entirely new life or death situation, and Willis pulls it off quite marvelously.

This is one of the year’s best action thriller offerings, as well as one of the more ingenious thrillers to come around in quite some time.

Video ****

Stunning, absolutely stunning! Director’s Siri stylish vision for this absorbing action thriller resonates in this superb anamorphic transfer. Image quality is strong throughout, in clarity and all-around detail. About 90% of the movie takes place at night, and all of the dark shots appear in the grandest form possible, with no visible flaws of any sort. Colors are also well handled, particularly in the color-laden title sequence. Well done across the board!

Audio ****

Hostage carries with it a furious level of sound, and the supplied 5.1 mix represents the highest quality of execution for a movie of this nature. Everything gets a top level of performance, from the pulse quickening music score to the intense bits of action/suspense, to the simplest form of dialogue delivery. A masterful piece of work.

Features ***

A good enough level of extras, as we get a brief but informative featurette titled “Taking Hostage Behind the Scenes”, deleted and extended scenes with optional commentary, as well as a full length commentary with director Florent Siri.

Summary:

Hostage represents the highest form of the action thriller, complete with hardcore action/suspense, and as well as an original sense of absorbing atmosphere. If you go into this thinking it’s just another Die Hard clone, you will be even more amazed. Highly recommended!

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