Worth A Look: 33.82%
Pretty Bad: 16.18%
Total Crap: 10.29%
5 reviews, 38 user ratings
by David Hollands
Hostage is a horrible title. It can be made the brunt of cheesy "the audience members are actually the hostages" jokes, though I'm not entirely against that. For you see Hostage, despite a few good elements, fails at being a good action film.Jeff Talley, formely an LAPD negotiator, has moved to a small town with his family after a tradegy shook him up. Despite the place appearing quiet and safe, hoodlums Dennis, Kevin and Mars are in the process of robbing corrupt yuppie Walter Smith's house. When a police officer shows up to investigate the situation, Mars, the psychotic of the group, shoots her to death (in one of those slow motion death scenes, no less). A DVD that Walter had prepared for a terrorist cell is in the house as well. Talley soon arrives on the scene, and his family is almost immediately taken hostage. He is told by the cell to protect those inside the house so that the DVD won't be lost. So, Jeff manages to communicate with Walter's youngest son inside the house. More stuff happens, and then explosions start.
"To make a joke about the title would be way too easy."
Hostage is filled with many unfortunate errors. The terrorist cell of which we are supposed to be terrified is horrifically underdeveloped. There's a typical old guy running the whole thing who is usually baithed in shadows the whole time, but that cliche is about all one's going to get in terms of explanation. Their motives are never revealed beyond "we want that DVD". While explaining as little as possible concerning the plans of the enemy is usually favourable, here it simply isn't. We know so little of what this group is actually doing, that their appearances in the film feel out of place, revealing a severe lack of focus on the screenwriter's part. That subplot feels as if it was only incerted to pad the running time. Proof of that? There are only about seven scenes in which the terrorists actually appear. Three of these include them actually speaking, and the last four involve lots of shooting. One can sense while watching that something more could have been done with the main villains, and that only helps to bring one out of the film.
Cliches run rampant throughout Hostage. As I've stated before, I don't mind the presence of cliches, just as long as their execution is sound enough to make me partially forget that I am watching a cliche. This film though, is one that doesn't want to stick with simply being an enjoyable action romp. No, apparently everyone involved seemed to think they were making the next cinematic masterpiece. This means lots of drama that, when one forgets the R rating, wouldn't have been considered good on Sunday school specials. Thus, there's a feeling throughout that the filmmakers think very highly of themselves and this film. It never occurs to them that the audience has seen many of these story elements before. When that happens, when the filmmakers try to bestow levels of "deep importance" onto everything happening, one simply notices the cliches even more. See if any of this sounds remotely familiar: (1) disgraced cop moves to a small town after someone is killed because of his mistakes, (2) Dennis, Kevin and Mars are robbing the house because they hate yuppies, (3) Mars turns out to be a psychotic of the "witnessed parents dying" variety, complete with revelations that he was a disturbed foster child, (4) villains and heroes that won't stay dead...you want me to continue?
Because it's obvious the filmmakers want the audience to take this story completely seriously, one can really feel no tension due to the fact that one knows that star Bruce Willis won't die. The guy's been in enough action movies in which he's survived, that one knows he simply can't lose. Of course, that wouldn't be a problem of the filmmakers hadn't put this heavy dramatic cloud over their movie. If the film had taken itself a lot less seriously, that wouldn't have been a problem. But no, scripter Doug Richardson actually tries to pull suspense from countless scenes of Mr. Willis in danger. Due to this, many of the so-called suspenseful moments come off as incredibly boring, even though they are well staged by the director at times. There is a small surprise when Bruce gets shot at one point, but guess what happens then? He literally brushes it off a few scenes later. Never mind that he was shot in the fricken stomach, AND was bleeding to an insane degree. If the cliches had been handled with a much less serious approach, one could easily look past those flaws and understand that the filmmakers simply wanted to give the audience a good time.
Hostage follows an old stipulation of the American thriller. Up until the final fifteen minutes, director Florent Emilio Siri shows admirable restraint when it comes to the violence. I guess since he knew the film would have a dramatic tone, he never made the violence too overt or unpleasant. However, as soon as the conclusion comes around, Siri and Doug Richardson do what most uncreative individuals would: they have the violence errupt to grotesque levels, and render the villains unkillable until the final dramatic scene. In the case of Hostage, it's especially disgusting. One is greeted with individuals being shot in bloody deaths, people thrown off balconies to land with sickening cracks, and one scene in which we see a person stabbed in the cheek in all its "glorious" detail. The violence come the conclusion, in other words, is so over the top that it becomes hilarious. It also succeeds in shifting the tone so completely, that one simply gives up in ever trying to be excited by anything in this mess. Even more boredom ensues when one of the villains burns themselves to death in one of the worst computer generated murders I have ever witnessed. That moment is not only shot with an extreme low angle, making it even more ridiculous, but in more slow motion no less. If that doesn't sound ridiculous, well...maybe you deserve to watch this dreck.
If all that weren't enough, the movie also tries to be a psychological drama. Mars, the most disturbed member of the group, is as typical a cinema psychopath as anything. The product of an awful childhood has made him into a sexual deviant, and years of foster families has left some serious damage within his skull. Notice anything similar about that? It's indeed a blessing that he doesn't speak much. Instead, he glares into the lense with eyes wider than the Moon. Whenever he menaces people, close-ups are used, showing off every bit of his shaky, sweaty face. He's also the source of some pretty dispicable scenes in which he menaces Walter Smith's promiscuosly dressed daughter. It's sleeze that's only inserted for sensationalistic reasons. However, given that the film is tying to be a dramatic action movie for most of its running time, these scenes are out of place. Why even make Mars a psychopath at all? Cause apparently, Doug Richardson wanted Hostage to become a horror flick come the conclusion. At that point, Mars goes completely nuts. We then get to watch such scenes as him screaming endlessly, chasing characters through vent shafts like a rapid dog, and breaking random objects. It's executed so badly that Hostage suddenly becomes the best comedy of 2005.
The conclusion itself is one of those awful stand-offs one usually sees in films of this nature. This time, it's Willis holding another character hostage in order to get his family back from the bad guys. I'm honestly not ruining anything for you when I say that this last bit involves a hidden gun (given the fact that Talley was able to even sneak it in that easily once again shows the poor scripting, as well as letting the film win the Most Idiotic Villains award), and an almost insulting out-of-character moment courtesy of someone who was a self-centered a*shole for the entirety of the movie. Never mind that his character goes through no substantial development - you see, that would actually justify his willingness to help Talley in the conclusion, something the filmmakers obviously couldn't care less for. But as I've said repeatedly, the script f*cking sucks.
I will say, however, that the action sequences are photographed rather well by cinematographer Giovanni Fiore Coltellacci. Shots are filled with gorgeous pools of black highlighted by shafts of light. The daytime scenes look beautiful, but when the action moves into the house, the lighting becomes spellbinding. The house itself looks like a gothic mansion. Moments that should have been tension-filled are helped considerably by Coltellacci's work, as they give scenes a barely noticeable menace. Given how decidedly unfrightening everything else is, that's a high compliment indeed. The scenes in which Mars chases Walter's children through the vent shafts was particularly well photographed, with Mars a moving shadow against intense back-lighting. I suppose if Hostage was a horror movie, I could easily call it the best work I've seen all year.
Florent Emilio Siri does a pretty good job directing the film. There are a few good shots here, especially one in which the camera flies over a mountain road as the villain's car follows the yuppie's car. The shot finally ends in a reveal of the house in which most of the action will take place. It's an excellent thing to witness, and also extremely creative. Siri's staging of the action sequences is well done, and while he does rely on the quick-cut editing of Richard Byard and Olivier Gajan too much in some spots, overall he is able to create and sustain a high level of intensity. While out of place, the scene in which Mars is stabbed in the cheek is a very surprising moment and a great jump shock. However, there are also some things that aren't so good. The aforementioned quick cutting, for example, is too distracting in some scenes. Action usually doesn't benefit from quick-cutting, as it renders what one sees onscreen confusing and lifeless. There's also way too much slow motion during the film. I was almost expecting white doves from hack director John Woo to fly in at points. And the sheer nadir of slow motion shots comes when Mars walks down a burning hallway carrying two maulotauve cocktails, arms outstretched to form a Christ-like image. It's pretty safe to say it's one of the most ridiculous images in the film. A pretty close call in terms of ridiculousness is the amount of white fades in the film. After scenes of "dramatic power", the image...get ready for it...fades to white. This happens about five times in the film, and about five times too many. It's one the horriest techniques anyone can use, not only because it's obvious and distracting, but because it raises the cheese level through the rough. This may seem like a minor gripe, but I practically dare you to watch the film and see for yourself.
When the film isn't action-oriented, Siri does do a nice job. While the sequences of family strain are shot obviously (with profile shots on Talley and his wife most of the time as they look depressed), the scenes of the cops trying to figure things out outside the house do have a slight intensity to them. However, the sheer ridiculousness of the story elements does cancel out that intensity quite a bit. Still, the way in which Siri never lets his camera stop moving for even a second is great in building subtle tension in the audience's mind.
Sadly countering Siri's work here is composer Alexandre Desplat's abysmal score. I don't know what's worse: having a rectal exam with a dentist's drill or listening to Desplat's work. I honestly hope that choice never comes up. Whenever Desplat tries to achieve some kind of emotion in his work, he relies on violins. So now the film is executing aural cliches right before our ears. During the action scenes, Desplat relies on endlessly loud notes that seem to be going in their own individual directions at random. The only volume levels of this score are loud and louder. It's unfortunate when a composer doesn't realise that endlessly loud notes become quite tiring. It's a sheer blessing whenever the music isn't used (which isn't often). Particularly grating is the score playing over the opening credits (lots of awful orchestration and arrangement, with ten too many intense bangs when title cards appear), and the music during the scene in which Talley sees his wife and children held hostage for the first time. That's sad, cause it would have been the best scene in the film were it not for the score. It's way too dramatic to work well, with a James Horner-esque overuse of syrupy-sad violins to carry the scene, and lots of pounding drums. In short, the score completely ruins any scene it tries to accentuate.
The main performances, aside from Ben Foster as Mars, are actually quite good. Bruce Willis does a nice job as Jeff Talley. I'm sure he's on autopilot, but it's in the kind of film which can afford that without suffering too much. Kevin Pollak is excellent as Walter Smith. He plays his role with the tone the rest of the film should have had. It's obvious that Pollak realises he isn't in high art, so he plays the role as if he's just having a Hell of a time. While his quality level falls considerably during the conclusion, given his level of excellence before hand, I'm willing to forgive it. Johnathan Tucker, who plays Dennis, does a fantastic job as well. Proving himself particularly gifted at portraying characters under extreme stress, he takes his role and turns it into gold. Watching this guy is an endless delight, as his commitment and energy during a scene is extraordinary. I wish he was in the film for the entire running time, cause he easily makes one forget that he or she is watching an actor portraying a character. The supporting characters, though, are performed so badly that they honestly aren't worth mentioning. Especially terrible is the actor who portrays the head masked villain. He tries to be menacing by playing his role in a very cool manner. Sad thing is, he's so restrained, he becomes somnambulant. The guy never had me frightened in the least.In the end, Hostage is a poorly executed, nearly unwatchable film. There are some good directorial touchs, and the main performances aren't bad. But with a script this overstuffed and a musical score that horrible, I honestly couldn't give this movie anything more than two stars. And that's being VERY generous.
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originally posted: 04/19/05 13:16:57