Made with energetic flair and no small dose of violence, mercifully handled with discretion, "Hostage" exemplifies taut, confident filmmaking. Bruce Willis draws upon the full measure of his strong physical presence, his intelligence and his considerable emotional resources held in reserve.
Under Florent Siri's authoritative direction, Willis holds together Doug Richardson's fiendishly clever script, based upon Robert Crais' novel, that tantalizingly teeters on the brink of improbability while keeping the viewer constantly on the edge of the seat.
An expertly staged opening sequence reveals why Willis' Jeff Talley, the LAPD's prime hostage negotiator, winds up a year later the chief of police of a quiet Ventura County town. Three youths (Ben Foster, Jonathan Tucker and Marshall Allman) in a dingy red pickup truck ogle a pretty local girl (Michelle Horn) driving a Cadillac Escalade. She responds with the classic crude gesture of rejection -- a bad idea, for the boys are more envious of her car and the wealth it represents than they are attracted to her. Horn's Jennifer lives in a highly fortified ultramodern mansion with her widowed father, Walter (Kevin Pollak), and younger brother, Tommy (Jimmy Bennett) -- but its security is not so airtight that, led by Foster's clever and crazy Mars, the three youths are prevented from swooping down on the family and taking them hostage.
In short, Talley is confronted with having to deal with the very situation he had hoped he had forever escaped. But "Hostage" almost immediately ups the ante for Talley to an excruciating degree, imposing upon him escalating pressure from two directions. Only a real movie star could hope to persuade a viewer that he could keep his cool under such tense and agonizing conditions, but Willis' credibility as a hero never falters -- nor, just as important, does his humanity.
Fraught with tension and intimations of the most hideous fate, "Hostage" uses the suspense it generates so furiously to reveal character under extreme duress and thus anchor its abundant thrills in some substance. Mars and Tucker's Dennis represent what can happen when their corrosive amorphous envy suddenly becomes focused, with the promise of a gratifying and lucrative release. (Allman's Kevin is essentially a decent kid sadly sandwiched between the psychopathic Mars and his insecure, reckless older brother, Dennis.)
As the plot rapidly spirals, Bennett emerges as Willis' virtual costar. In Bennett's playing and in the film's writing, Bennett's Tommy emerges as a bright and brave boy without seeming insufferably or incredibly precocious for an 8-year-old. Horn and Pollak don't have as much screen time as Bennett but round out a wholly believable family placed in deep peril.
"Hostage" packs plenty of surprises. Giovanni Fiore Coltellacci's cinematography has the dynamic flourishes essential to drive the film to its double-whammy finish and is complemented by Larry Fulton's striking production design and Alexandre Desplat's mood-enhancing score. "Hostage" marks another hit for Willis in a role that demands action and sensitivity and represents a knockout American debut for Siri, director of the acclaimed French thriller "The Nest."
MPAA rating: Rated R for strong graphic violence, language and some drug use.
Times guidelines: Far too intense for children. Although much of the violence is intimated rather than depicted, what is shown is too strong for some tastes.
Bruce Willis...Jeff Talley
Kevin Pollak...Walter Smith
Ben Foster...Mars Krupcheck
Jonathan Tucker...Dennis Kelly
Marshall Allman...Kevin Kelly
Michelle Horn...Jennifer Smith
Jimmy Bennett...Tommy Smith
A Miramax Films and Stratus Film Co. presentation of a Cheyenne Enterprises production/Equity Pictures Medienfonds GmbH & Co. KG II production in association with Syndicate Films International. Director Florent Siri. Producers Mark Gordon, Bob Yari, Bruce Willis, Arnold Rifkin. Executive producers Andreas Thiesmeyer, Josef Lautenschlager, Hawk Koch, David Wally. Screenplay Doug Richardson; based on the book by Robert Crais. Cinematographer Giovanni Fiore Coltellacci. Editors Olivier Gajan, Richard J.P. Byard. Music Alexandre Desplat. Costumes Elisabetta Beraldo. Production designer Larry Fulton. Art director Keith P. Cunningham. Set decorator Cindy Carr. Running time: 1 hour, 53 minutes.
In general release