Dir: Florent Siri. US. 2005. 115mins.
Hostage, the new vehicle for Bruce Willis,survives an occasionally overcomplicated plot to provide consistently solid, ifnot particularly novel, entertainment. While there is very little that is newhere, the familiar characters, story, situation and iconography of theSWAT-team genre are crisply and engagingly delivered by French director FlorentSiri, best known previously for his action-thriller The Nest (2002).
Willis' mostrecent films have not been too successful: his last feature, The Whole NineYards, took only around $25m worldwide, less than half the production andP&A budget, while his last action feature, Tears Of The Sun (2003)similarly took just over $85m.
But Hostage,which opens in the US this Friday, neatly balances sentiment, spectacle, andslaughter. As such it should perform much better than Willis' recent output,appealing worldwide to audiences beyond his hardcore fanbase, with similarbusiness on DVD down the line.
Willis playsJeff Talley, a well-known hostage negotiator with the LAPD, who, through amiscalculation, allows a woman and her young son to be murdered by a berserkex-husband.
Shattered by theexperience, he takes a job as the police chief in Bristo Camino, a small townin California (this job and location are never more than sketchilyestablished), and is soon caught up in another major hostage situation in hisown backyard.
Complicatingmatters - maybe too much - is the fact that one of the hostages, Walter Smith(Pollack), a corrupt accountant, is also in the middle of an unspecified majorcrime, whose details only he has access to.
Alarmed by thefact that Smith and his family have been taken hostage by some feckless localpunks, the professional-grade criminals take Talley's own family hostage untilhe delivers the financial information they need, which Smith has burned onto aDVD in the besieged house.
Willis is solidand appropriately stolid and uncommunicative throughout, and the secondaryperformances - especially from Jimmy Bennett as Smith's young son Tommy and BenFoster as the Dennis Hopper-style young psychotic killer Mars - are alwaysconvincing and sometimes even riveting.
The hi-techparaphernalia of police officers in black, alien-like gear and the fascinationwith glossy surfaces and rich homes that usually form part of the thrillergenre are here in spades, and Willis' character, though internally anguishedthroughout, is cast in heroic form by movie's end. Similarly, the primordialurge to protect one's family provides the chief appeal of the story.
What works toredeem the film's conventionality is Siri's stylish camera work and deliciouslychiaroscuro lighting (obviously achieved in conjunction with his Italiancinematographer Giovanni Fiore Coltellacci) and his resolute attention todetail.
The latter canbe seen in touches like the visually imaginative credits, the occasionallywitty dialogue, and the attention paid to little things like the crackle ofMars' leather jacket.
Siri andscreenwriter Richardson have also managed to gently vary stock types by having,for example, the shadowy head criminal deliver his threats in the smoothest,most mellifluous of voices, and by introducing a kinky sexual tension betweenMars and Smith's teenage daughter Jennifer (Horn).
Though the filmis probably too long at 115 minutes, Siri's excellent control of tempo and hisdelicate hand modulating the film's dynamics go a long way to keeping viewersfully engaged.
Prod cos: Miramax, Stratus Films, Cheyenne Enterprise, EquityPictures Medienfonds
US dist: Miramax
Int'l sales: Syndicate FilmsInt'l
Exec prods: Hawk Koch, DavidWally, Andreas Thiesmeyer, Josef Lautenschlager
Prods: Bruce Willis, ArnoldRifkin, Mark Gordon, Bob Yari
Scr: Doug Richardson, from thebook by Robert Crais
Cine: Giovanni Fiore Coltellacci
Ed: Olivier Gajan, Richard JPByard
Mus: Alexandre Desplat
Main cast: Bruce Willis, KevinPollack, Ben Foster, Michelle Horn, Jimmy Bennett