STUDIO: Miramax
MSRP: $29.99 RATED: R
RUNNING TIME: 108 min.
Deleted scenes

“You’re the wrong person in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

That’s what someone told luckless cop John McClane the second time he found himself caught dead center in an unlikely confluence of perilous happenings. That type of cinematic improbability has followed Bruce Willis through his career, whether he’s a futuristic cab driver saving the planet, an oil rig chief saving the planet, or just a boxer trying to get out of a rapist’s basement. What else could the guy possibly get into?

The Flick

As Hostage begins, Willis’ Jeff Talley is a disheveled LA crisis negotiator who, judging by his rather aloof approach to dealing with a hostage situation, has become disenchanted with his duty. Contending with the latest Los Angeles loon takes a swift turn for the worse, and Talley is suddenly facing his greatest fear – a failed outcome and a family, including a young lad, with fresh new holes in their faces.

As usual, a night out on the town with Michael Madsen and a few too many tequila shots inevitably led to a "Mr. Blonde incident".

A year later, Talley has shorn his shaggy beard and skull, and pinned on the badge of police chief in a small California town. The low crime rate of such a serene location has proven a reprieve from his guilt and stress, which instead extends to his calamitous personal life – his estranged wife (Serena Scott Thomas, sister Kristin) and defiant daughter (Rumer Willis, whose genetic hotness must still be fermenting) want nothing but to go back to Los Angeles.

Meanwhile, wealthy single father Walter Smith (Kevin Pollak) goes from teaching his young son Tommy not to interrupt business calls and persuading his teenage daughter Jennifer to wear less provocative clothes to suddenly dealing with a home invasion. Delinquent brothers Dennis (Jonathan Tucker) and Kevin (Marshall Allman), along with sly sociopath Mars (Ben Foster), have followed the Smiths home with designs on jacking their luxurious Escalade. But when a silent alarm is tripped, Mars (the “mastermind” of the sketchy bunch) thinks nothing of pumping ammo into the local constabulary, and the Smiths’ isolated hi-tech residence promptly becomes the site of a hostage situation.

On his 23rd birthday, Lance started to have second thoughts about the whole Necromonger thing.

Talley is more than willing to concede authority to others in dealing with the volatile situation, but Fate obviously just watched Die Hard on cable and events soon conspire to return him to command — before he’d end up unconscious and bleeding onto an undoubtedly expensive rug, Walter had been doing extracurricular “accounting” work for some well-connected criminals and was to deliver a DVD (tucked into one of the cases in his extensive Nunziata-like movie collection) containing pertinent information that very evening. This cadre of unsavory types (headed by character actor Kim Coates, though his face is never seen) are under a time constraint of their own and require the data on that disc, and so they “recruit” Talley to retrieve it – to assure his complicity, they kidnap his family for collateral. As tension within the house escalates, Talley must continually compromise his principles to complete his task.

Implausible though its setup and resolution may be, up until its final moments Hostage is about as un-Hollywood as you’re likely to find in a big-budget thriller. Both lean (characters are developed only as much as necessary and motives are implied or hidden) and complex (several small herrings swim through the script), the movie’s uneasy suspense and grim tone give an explicit Euro/giallo aesthetic that evokes the works of Argento and Bava (Rabid Dogs specifically). Looking at the name of the cinematographer, the talented Giovanni Fiore Coltellacci, that sort of makes sense.

"Yes, Mr. Nunziata? This is just a reminder that your rentals of Men in Black Men and Beverly Hills Cock 3 are now 30 days overdue…"

Director Florent Siri smoothly creeps the camera through the designer domicile as though we as the audience are voyeuristic prowlers watching the events inside, and as with any good movie taking place in one major location, the house itself becomes a character (whether simply overprotective of his family or rightfully paranoid of the inevitable hazard from the source of his supplementary income, Walter has outfitted the uniquely opulent home with cameras, alarms, exterior lights, “panic room”, security gates and next-generation computer system). Siri is obviously a gifted director with a distinct sense of visual and placement, equally capable with subdued character-driven moments as well as the action, even if he gets overly cinematic with a climax more appropriate for the John Woo of Now. Judging by their (non)appearance in Hostage, he’s a fan of shadowy and/or faceless villains, which is a fascinating contrast to his proficiency for capturing actors’ expressions and intimate character moments and quirks. He also really digs the image of guys in spec-ops gear – in addition to swarms of them attacking the protagonists in his last flick The Nest (aka Nid de guepes), a far superior remake (however unofficial) of Assault on Precinct 13 than the American version (also directed by a Frenchman, coincidentally), Siri also “directed” two Splinter Cell videogames. Too bad Paramount didn’t grab him for their feature adaptation.

Siri also pulls some quality performances from his actors, with Pollak lending sympathy to a guy who’s basically just a white-collar crook. The kid actors come across very natural and never annoying, and Foster’s calculating mannerisms and predator gaze are wonderfully menacing, if occasionally cartoonish. Willis actually delivers an effectively nuanced performance rather than glide on A-list charm (he’s more than emotionally invested, having also produced the movie), and he obviously liked what screenwriter Doug Richardson did with Robert Crais’ novel as he’s since set him about writing Die Hard 4 (although considering Richardson also worked on Die Hard 2, I suppose it’s just come full circle).

Bruce’s favorite time of day? Feedin’ time.

Hostage stirs in compelling character dynamics and presents some nifty twists (not to mention a bit of cagey subtext), although it’s not entirely free of comparisons to the movie that made Willis famous — there’s an interesting juxtaposition where young Tommy is the one wriggling through air ducts and communicating with Talley, who holds vigil outside the building. A less amusing Die Hard parallel is the post-climactic rescue setpiece complete with duct tape, a hidden weapon and headshots, but the third-act attempt to satisfy with a Big Rock Finish (Collateral fell victim to a similar concession) doesn’t diminish the film as the sort of taut, biting and surprising action-thriller that’s become much too rare.

7.8 out of 10

The Look

A fine widescreen anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) has a slightly desaturated appearance, though this was obviously a stylistic decision on the part of the filmmakers. It’s a very gritty and dark film that nonetheless contains a lot of earthy tones, and the DVD’s picture gives you what you need.

8.0 out of 10

By the time the franchise got to The Crow: Molotov Rapture, even the goth wankers had lost interest.

The Noise

The Dolby 5.1 audio is as playful as they come – helicopters, gunfire, vehicles, a raging inferno, and all sorts of beeps, buzzes and radio chatter, all set to an alternately foreboding and bold score.

8.5 out of 10

The Goodies

An audio commentary track by director Florent Siri is the main feature, and he covers just about every aspect of the production from casting and script changes to the design of that remarkable house. He also gets into his influences and storytelling style, and while he sometimes comes across as a little pretentious (hey, he’s French), for a solo track it’s pretty full, though naturally it would’ve been more interesting had Willis joined him (does the guy even do commentaries?).

"Dammit, why didn’t you warn me about Madsen before that last round? What?"

After that is a 13-minute featurette that contains the now-standard featurette ingredients – cast and crew interviews, movie clips and behind-the-scenes shots, and while it feels a little slight (I would’ve liked to see some background on actual hostage negotiators) it’s serviceable if more promotional than substantial. There’s also seven minutes of deleted/extended scenes (with director commentary), mostly additional character exposition that could’ve served the film (some background on the boys and why they hang around with a nutter like Mars) and others that deserved to be excised (Willis’ remorseful cop has a drinking problem). There’s also a bunch of trailers, though the one for Hostage is curiously absent.

6.9 out of 10

The Artwork

Buy me!I gotta admit I’m not terribly impressed with the cover design – on top you’ve got a jabbering Willis holding a blurry gun at an odd angle, while below the title he looks like he’s on the set of Unbreakable 2: Flame Retardant. I wasn’t all that wild about the theatrical poster either, but the tagline (“Would you sacrifice another family to save your own?”) was more indicative of the film than “Every second counts”.

Besides Willis on the cover somewhere, this thing should have cop cars with flashing lights, heavily armed SWAT guys, and most importantly, the house. It’d certainly give the sense of a hostage situation more than what we got.

4.0 out of 10

Overall: 7.8 out of 10