It’s hard to pass up an action film starring Bruce Willis. Even when it’s one I haven’t heard of before, I assume there’s a certain minimum level of enjoyment because Bruce Willis is always going to turn in a solid performance. Hostage is no exception to that rule; Willis is as good as ever here.
In Hostage Willis’s character, Jeff Talley, starts off as the hostage negotiator for L.A.P.D. After a negotiation goes awry, he loses confidence in himself, and takes a job as the police chief of a nearby suburb. He finds the job less stressful, as it’s a quiet town, and most days are essentially crime-free. Most days. Of course, we know there wouldn’t be a movie if that were always the case.
We also know the hair and beard won’t last, because this is Bruce Willis.
Trouble comes in the form of three young men, joyriding in a stolen pickup truck. Dennis (Jonathan Tucker), his brother Kevin (Marshall Allman), and Dennis’s friend Mars (Ben Foster) are looking around for further trouble to get into when they spot a well-to-do girl from Kevin’s high school in the parking lot. They make some lewd gestures at her, and she flips them off, then leaves; Dennis then decides to follow her to her house, and between his rash decisions and Mars’s complete sociopathy, it soon escalates into a hostage situation. Soon one of Talley’s officers is shot investigating the silent alarm, and Talley finds himself needing to resume his skills as a hostage negotiator in order to save the lives of Walter Smith (Kevin Pollak) and his children Jennifer (Michelle Horn) and Tommy (Jimmy Bennett).
The three criminals are the impetus for a lot of the plot, and so the film keeps a focus on them for much of its run time. The actors who play the three all turn in solid performances. Jonathan Tucker is very convincing as a kid who just keeps getting into trouble and can’t keep things under control. Marshall Allman makes it clear that Kevin has some standards, and it comes across well in his facial expressions. And Ben Foster is creepy and sinister as the truly disturbed Mars. The other young actors also do well. Michelle Horn’s performance as Jennifer is fairly standard, but she acquits herself well overall. Jimmy Bennett is especially good as the younger brother Tommy, and it’s not as easy a role as the kid brother would usually be in this sort of film; Tommy is a very resourceful kid, so Bennett has to be able to portray him as someone who is capable of getting on top of a situation even while losing control emotionally because hey, he’s still a pre-teen.
This kid’s more on top of things than most of the adults.
Of course, the plot isn’t quite as simple as a straightforward hostage negotiation; that would be OK for a TV movie, perhaps, but it wouldn’t provide much meat for a feature film. Matters are complicated by the nature of Walter Smith’s business. Dennis uncovers Smith’s safe, full of millions of dollars, and thinks he has hit the jackpot; savvy viewers will realize this actually means he’s way out of his depth. Before the movie has been going on very long, Talley is contacted by an unknown person (Kim Coates) for whom Smith has been handling cooked bookkeeping. This someone needs either Smith or the data that Smith has regarding their offshore bank accounts… and has kidnapped Talley’s wife and daughter (Serena Scott Thomas and Rumer Willis in mostly non-speaking roles) to ensure his cooperation. So Talley is, in essence, working two hostage negotiations at once; one official, and one personal, and both centered around a group of individuals who are more than a little unreliable. The plot thus becomes considerably more interesting with the raised tension and the complications that develop. With the risks effectively doubled, every chance that Talley takes, and everything that goes wrong, feels more dire.
It’s difficult to watch Bruce Willis in an action movie, particularly one where he plays a cop, and not think of Die Hard. And if I’m being honest, I have to say that Hostage doesn’t quite measure up in comparison; but then, very little will. Jeff Talley isn’t John McClane; he’s not prone to giving one-liners, and although he has his action-hero moments, he’s not as adept at it as McClane. His plans are less improvisational, more actual planning. It’s a different character, but still an entertaining one; the audience just has to adjust their expectations on what kind of character Willis will be delivering.
McClane would not be making that face.
My one real complaint on this film has to do with the directing. The director was Florent-Emilio Siri, and this was his first (and so far only) English-language film. About 90% of the film is solidly directed, and there isn’t anything that’s out and out bad as far as the directing goes. But there are moments when I was taken out of it because things weren’t as convincing as they should have been. There are a couple action sequences that are rather sub-par, and there’s also a tendency to make directorial decisions to emphasize the dramatic side of things — to the point where it feels more than a little overdone. This ranges from little things like using fades to white instead of black between scenes, to major things like the extended lingering shot of Mars’s face during one pivotal scene. I don’t want to harp on it too much, because this is mostly a good film, but there were moments where stylistic choices didn’t play well for me.
If I have to recommend a Bruce Willis action flick to somebody, well, you know it’s going to be Die Hard. But I can also recommend Hostage without significant reservations. It’s not the same kind of action film, but it’s also exciting, also fairly good, and has a good handle on providing an interesting plot.