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Review byMatthew Turner10/03/2005

Two out of Five stars
Running time: 118 mins

Gritty, dark thriller that ultimately collapses under the weight of its twist-laden premise, despite strong performances from its cast and an impressively tense atmosphere.

It’s fair to say that Bruce Willis hasn’t made a decent film in a very long time - arguably since Unbreakable, which was a good five years ago.

Suddenly, however, he’s everywhere - a cameo in Ocean’s 12, an upcoming role in Robert Rodriguez’s eagerly-anticipated Sin City and, in the meantime, Hostage, which, although technically a thriller, doesn’t actually feature Willis kicking arse and cracking wise, Die Hard-style. Instead it’s a darker, grittier film that works well in terms of atmosphere and suspense but ultimately collapses under the weight of its admittedly intriguing premise.

Based On The Best Seller

The film is based on the best-selling novel by Richard Crais. Willis plays Jeff Talley, an ex-LAPD hostage negiator who has retired to a low-profile job as a smalltown chief of police after a hostage situation that went disastrously wrong and resulted in the deaths of a mother and her young son.

However, Jeff finds himself forced back into action when a trio of car-jackers (including Jonathan Tucker and Ben Foster) take a local family hostage. This is no ordinary family, however - the father (Kevin Pollak) just happens to be a mob accountant and his hillside house is protected like a fortress. To make matters worse, the mob decide to take Jeff’s own wife and daughter hostage in order to maintain some control over the situation…

There’s an old screenplay adage that describes the typical three-act set-up in the following way: “Act one - get your hero up a tree. Act two - throw rocks at him. Act three - get him down.” The problem with Hostage, then, is that, having got Jeff “up the tree” (i.e. under the thumb of the mob) it then swiftly runs out of “rocks” to throw at him and spends the middle part of the film floundering around until it’s time for a fiery climax or two.

Basically, the film completely fails to exploit its premise, with the result that Willis is actually offscreen for long periods of time and it becomes increasingly obvious that the writers ran out of ideas.

Cast Prop Up Plot Holes

Fortunately, the supporting cast are so good (particularly Foster, Tucker and Michelle Horn as Pollak’s daughter) that the sequences inside the house are actually more compelling than whatever Jeff is up to. Foster, especially, is genuinely terrifying.

To be fair, Willis is extremely good, ditching the grin and the wisecracks for something more serious and “tortured”. It’s just unfortunate that the film doesn’t give him that much to actually do, at least until the ridiculous climax, when video-game director Siri goes all out with slow-mo, pseudo-religious imagery and lots of impressive fire effects.

In short, Hostage promises more than it can deliver, to the point where you can’t help wondering whether the film wouldn’t have played better without the added mob element. It’s still a watchable thriller, thanks to strong performances, but it’s not the film it should have been.

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Content updated: 23/10/2019 02:09

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