Saturday, March 12, 2005

REVIEW: Hostage

WARNING: This review will be kept as spoiler-free as possible, but proceed with caution nontheless.

"Hostage" is being billed as a gritty action/thriller, and that it is but also much more. Fueled by an international (and inter-media) criss-crossing of talent that finds quintessential American everyman-hero Bruce Willis occupying a movie world set in a "California" more reminiscient of recent French suspense thrillers and frequently drenched in bold, over-the-top style of Italian "giallo" shockers. It feels as though birthed from a kind of primordial melting-pot into which the alternate cinematic streams of the Slasher, Home-Invasion, Cop, Crime-Thriller, Seige and Action genres have all been diverted; joining the growing ranks of films that are not content to live within the limitations of a single style or category.

It's also the best new movie of 2005 thus far, setting a VERY high bar for the rest of the year's action/thrillers to follow. You owe it to yourself to go see this movie as soon as possible, knowing about it as little as possible.

Willis, once again proving himself one of the most naturalistic and thus terminally underrapreciated actors in America, here is Jeff Talley; a one-time "legendary" FBI hostage negotiator fallen from grace and putting his life back together as police chief of a tiny California county. On a day like any other, a pair of ne'er-d0-well teenaged brothers and their possibly-psychotic hoodlum friend "Mars" attempt the robbery of a high-security mansion inhabited by an accountant (Kevin Pollack) and his two children. Things go about as badly as they can, and they're soon to go worse: Without giving anything away, it will become apparent that the house's security system is touchier than one might guess, that there's more going on in the house than it seems, that the father's clientel is far more than it seems and that Mars is, unfortunately for those locked inside with him, exactly what he seems. Outside the house, not only Talley's local cops but also the FBI and some unseen, shadowy figures who have motives entirely their own are working to get in. Everyone has an agenda that puts everyone else in danger, eventually even Talley himself.

It would have been easy for "Hostage," with so many differing styles and story-points competing for attention, to turn into a giant mess; but it holds up not only well but spectacularly well, and credit for this has to go to newcomer director Florent Siri. Siri is a newcomer, who's only prior film of note was an actioner called "The Nest." He's done the majority of his work as a director of video games, namely the two most-recent Tom Clancy "Splinter Cell" titles. I'm not positive if this makes Siri the first game-director to cross over into mainstream filmmaking, but I certainly can't think of many others. In a way it makes perfect sense, as the experience of having to "direct" the action of a multi-story, multi-linear, player-maleable interactive game must have made a difference in how expertly he handles the criss-crossing stories and stylistic leaps of his film: If Siri lands a hit with this film, and I believe he may, expect to hear a lot of buzz in the coming months about video game directors being "the new music video directors."

Always overlooked even in his own better films, Bruce Willis is as good here as he's been in a long time. The effortlessness with which he seems to inhabit action movie worlds, even one so penetrated by other genres as this one, often leads to his being written off as just another action hero. But it takes an enormous talent to remain grounded and "real" in as many different worlds as Willis' heroes frequently find themselves, and here his presence serves a similar function to his presence in "The Fifth Element": He's the anchor, the one who keeps the movie from flying off into deep space on it's various genre-tangents. Over-the-top and stylized as it may be, "Hostage" constantly seems to exist in a real world of real consequence largely because it's impossible to believe that Willis-as-Talley would be there otherwise.

There is absolutely nothing "wrong" with this film, it's as solid and excellent as a mid-scale action/thriller can be, and it wrings 110% of the possible potential from everyone involved. This is the best new movie playing in theaters right now, and it's definately worth your time and your money. Highly reccomended.


1 comment:

Scott said...

Wow. So, I guess you don't agree with Steven Holden that "Hostage" is "...a pile of blood-soaked toxic waste dumped onto the screen in an attempt to salvage Bruce Willis's fading career as an action hero." :-)