December 5, 2005
Quentin Tarantino has said that he cast Bruce Willis in Pulp Fiction (1994) because he reminded him of Ralph Meeker, an actor who had a classic film noir quality to him that the filmmaker was looking for. Willis exudes the same kind of presence in two recent efforts, Sin City (2005) and Hostage (2005), the latter an old-fashioned thriller.
Jeff Talley (Willis) is burnt out from years as a big city hostage negotiator. Haunted by a situation that he mishandled resulting in the death of a family, he moves his own family to a small town where he becomes the chief of police. One day, three white trash kids (you can tell that they are by the beat-up pick-up truck they drive around in) follow a father (Pollak) and his two children back to their hi-tech estate intent on stealing one of their vehicles. The kids end up taking them all hostage with one of them, a quietly intense, long-haired psycho (Foster cast against type), killing a cop.
This quickly becomes a situation for which Talley to redeem himself. He’s determined not to lose control of the situation like the last time. Things get complicated when the punks figure out how to activate the house’s hi-tech security system, turning it into a fortress. Further complications arise when the men the father was involved with in a criminal capacity step in and take Talley’s family hostage. They force Talley to do what they want or his family will die.
Bruce Willis plays the world-weary, seen-it-all cop we know so well. He anchors the movie with an effortless performance of a man haunted by his past and filled with regrets. It’s a role he’s done before (i.e. Striking Distance) and so he is able to use his expressive face to show the inner pain and turmoil of Talley. Willis does his best to make us care about what happens to his character.
Ben Foster is something of a revelation in this movie as the Methods his way through the movie as a truly disturbing individual. Known predominantly for playing fresh-faced all-American boys (Get Over It), he eradicates this nice guy image by playing a creepy, leather-jacketed killer. There is an unpredictability to his performance because we never know what’s going on behind those dead eyes of his. Foster all but runs away with the movie by taking a cliché, throwaway role and breathing life into it.
Credit should be given to the filmmakers for keeping things simple and not trying to get too fancy or stylish. Hostage could have done with a bit more editing to make it leaner (it drags in the middle as Talley tries to figure out a way into the house). It’s an obvious attempt to flesh out some of the characters but the film doesn’t need it. A more no-nonsense approach would have been better.
Hostage certainly isn’t original by any means (it contains elements of Desperate Hours, The Negotiator and Panic Room) but proves to be an entertaining thriller nonetheless. It’s a B-movie thriller with an A-movie budget, executed flawlessly despite the cliché premise and featuring a solid performance from the reliable Willis and a stand-out one by Foster.
“Taking Hostage Behind the Scenes” is a standard press kit featurette as the cast gush about what a consummate professional Willis is and talk about their characters. Director Florent Siri was a fan of ‘40s film noir and ‘70s action films and wanted to blend the two in Hostage.
There are six deleted scenes with optional commentary by Siri. One explains Mars’ motivation which the director cut because he wanted to keep the character more mysterious. Another one shows that Talley has become an alcoholic.
Also included are two extended scenes with optional commentary by Siri. There is more between Talley and his daughter and a bit more of Mars burning up, both of which Siri felt went on too long and had to be cut down.
Finally, there is an audio commentary by Siri. The film’s striking opening credits was his homage to the black and white film noirs of the ‘40s. In the book that the film was based on, the three kids were much older but Siri wanted them young, like the kids from Columbine—dead inside and with little regard for human life. Siri comes off all as well-spoken, talking at length about the motivations of characters and the themes of the movie.