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HOSTAGE
U.S. Release Date: March 11, 2005
Distributor: Miramax
Producer: Mark Gordon, Bob Yari
Composer: Alexandre Desplat
Cast: Bruce Willis, Kevin Pollak, Ben Foster
Running Time: 1 hour and 53 minutes
MPAA Rating: R (strong graphic violence, language and some drug use)

Taut Willis Thriller Cops Out with Moral Equivalency
by Scott Holleran

Most of Hostage—as gruesome as other action pictures—is like an exciting epilogue to Bruce Willis's original Die Hard character: a regular policeman fighting forces more powerful than himself and coming out on top. By the time Hostage reaches its climax, however, it goes sour.

When director Florent Siri, working from Doug Richardson's script, created vivid characterizations in an intricate hostage conflict with virtually no way out, he forgot to give the audience an anchor. If it's supposed to be good guy Willis, an ex-hostage negotiator who moves to the suburbs with his wife and kid to settle into low crime law enforcement, it is a mistake. He is too plain—a regular Joe struggling with his anxiety over the hostage that got away, reacting like any decent husband and father and cop would.

That's fine for a while. But, at the decisive moment, everything works its way around him and, pardon the pun, it's a copout.

Hostage sets up a frighteningly realistic scenario: a trio of teenaged hoodlums breaks into an expensive house, which they do not know is owned and occupied by a stooge in a bigger criminal operation. Apparently, the stooge is cooking the books for some nefarious types who have power beyond the wildest conspiracy theory. So, they are not exactly thrilled when the crooked operation is placed in jeopardy by a few demonic teens, who take the dad, his daughter and son as hostages.

The unseen mob—they wear ski masks—decide to make Willis's chief of police the fall guy, snatching his wife and daughter (Willis's real life kid, Rumer Willis). The grab is their guarantee that Willis will tilt the hostage action in their favor and recover a disk that is crucial to their scheme. How, why and whether this multi-million dollar gang failed to set up a basic contingency plan, like backing up data, is anyone's guess.

There are more holes than not, but Siri puts the screenplay into fast moving action with emphasis on each character's progress. Willis goes from laid-back hippie negotiator to a Zen-like bald policeman. Hostage dad Kevin Pollak—it is good to see him in a decent role—plays the crook whose kids (Michelle Horn, Jimmy Bennett, both top acts) are a chubby rich girl in gothic eyeliner and a video game geek who sneaks into his big sister's room and knows enough to scram when the going gets rough.

The family is at the mercy of three aimless thugs, except for one very dim-witted brother (Marshall Allman) who should have stayed home. The other two low-lifes are simply evil. Ben Foster's and Jonathan Tucker's kidnappers—who ought to make every parent squirm—consume the movie, detracting from the Willis character.

As Willis tries to keep his wife and daughter alive while doing his job keeping the accountant's kids alive, Hostage takes a subtle shift, making Willis irrelevant and putting the Columbine creatures on an equal plane—as martyrs more than murderers, with the worst teen granted Christ-like status.

What begins as a compelling moral dilemma descends into a remake of The Towering Inferno, complete with wet towels over the head. A surprise ending is a red herring that presupposes bad people are merely good guys who make bad choices, turning an otherwise taut thriller into a movie where the criminals and cops are indistinguishable.


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