i kind of knew going in that hostage is not going to be a die hard-ish movie. first of all, it stars BRUCE willis. he’s pretty good at protecting the die hard brand, and if he want to do a die hard-ish movie, he would do an actual die hard movie. there are enough die hard-ish movies for all the non-BRUCE. but since BRUCE is in the movie, and it revolves around hostage situations, it seems like a nice way to kick off our second annual die hard-ish 2: die harder-ish month.
another reason hostage is not quite a die hard-ish movie is that it has an inconsequential opening action sequence (i.o.a.s.™). most action movies have them, but the most authentic die hard-ish movies don’t. we don’t see john mcclane busting random crooks in the opening of any die hard movies. instead, they jump right in to the die hard situation.
BRUCE plays jeff talley, hostage negotiator for the l.a.p.d. he’s in the middle of negotiating with a lunatic (jamie mcshane from tv’s 24, southland, and sons of anarchy) who’s holding his wife and son hostage. there is a hint of john mcclane/david addison/hudson hawk at first, with BRUCE kind of nonchalantly negotiating with the madman. BRUCE also has long hair and a full beard (which he grooms on screen, while negotiating), so you may think that this is the 70s but turns out it’s only a year ago. though not a die hard or die hard-ish movie, he does look as sick and tired of his job as in die hard with a vengeance.
that opening hostage situation doesn’t end well, and we jump to a year later when BRUCE moves from l.a. to a small town and becomes the police chief. it may have only been a year but he is now clean shaven and needs reading glasses. BRUCE’s boss is played by glenn morshower, who’s not only in all three transformers movies but also michael bay’s the island and pearl harbor. he also had a role in the die hard-ish under siege.
actually, before this sequence, there is a pretty amazing looking opening credits sequence, with the camera going through a cityscape with block letter words. it’s kind of sin city-ish, except in color. the i.o.a.s. is shot with a gritty, high contrast way that it feels more like a 70s cop drama than a slick action movie.
there is another beautifully shot sequence here where the three parties of the movie come to the same intersection. we are talking de palma level here. the house that is the centerpiece of the movie is in the middle of the woods so we get a few kubrick-esque overhead shots a la the shining.
the other two parties are the hostage-takers and the hostages. there is the wealthy kevin pollack (the whole nine yards, the whole ten yards) with his teenage daughter (michelle horn from deep space nine) and young son (jimmy bennett, young james t. kirk from star trek: j.j. abrams edition). the other car, a red truck, has the less wealthy local punks that include two brothers (marshall allman from tv’s true blood and jonathan tucker from tv’s parenthood) and mars, played by ben foster (from bang bang you’re dead, but mostly known as the mutant with wings from that x-men movie), who looks like…i was going to say pre-movie-awarded trent reznor but i think i’ll go with substitute lead singer for creed. foster is also in alpha dog with BRUCE, and the die hard-ish phone booth.
the three poor punks initially planned on taking the escalade from the rich family. of course, things get out of hand and they end up trapped in the house. as with most home invasion movies, they ask for a helicopter. what’s different here is that they don’t really have a plan. it’s kind of by accident that they find bags of cash in the house and that gadgets are activated that trapped them in the house.
another interesting thing is that while BRUCE shows up on the scene, he actually does what his job entails and all ready for a hostage negotiator to handle the situation. it’s not often you see BRUCE heading to a diner and going home while shit is going down. this little detour also gives us a glimpse into BRUCE’s family situation. as in die hard 1 and die hard 3 with a vengeance, we see that he and his wife (serena scott thomas from the world is not enough, younger sister of kristin scott thomas) are not doing that well. as in die hard 4: live free or, his daughter (played by rumer willis, BRUCE’s daughter in real life) resents him for moving to the small town. now that i think about it, the family relationship is kind of like the last boy scout, except not as pessimistic and cynical. they talk more like real people, rather than with witty one liners or pop culture references.
of course, you don’t get BRUCE in your movie to not deal with the shit going down. you also don’t use BRUCE in a movie just so he can talk some young punks out of a hostage situation. as much as he wants to eat dinner and go home, an ominous group of masked villains showed up and kidnapped BRUCE’s wife and daughter. it’s here that sets hostage apart from your run of the mill home invasion/hostage movies. the anonymous group of villains wants something inside the house and they decided BRUCE is the man for the job.
it may sound like i have given away major plot points but all of these are actually in the trailer. it’s kind of a hostage situation on top of another hostage situation. it’s more interested in being a mystery/thriller than a full blown action movie.
what’s most successful about hostage is that it finds the balance between its generic material and the way it develops. the technologically advanced house and the filmmaking techniques are inventive. there is another brilliantly shot sequence when the anonymous villains kidnapped BRUCE and show him that his wife and daughter are kidnapped. expositions are handled in such a way that you don’t feel the plot is unnecessarily complicated nor do you feel being talked down to.
there is no doubt that it will remind you of similar movies. the three young punks, with a “normal” one, a younger, kind of dumb one, and the unpredictable hothead is similar to panic room. they didn’t mention it but there is kind of a locked in room in the house that’s pretty much a panic room. the earlier scenes within the wealthy family kind of reminds me of the abomination that is joel schumacher’s trespass starring niclolas cage. in fact, hostage is a smarter, more inventive version of trespass 2011. it shows that just because you’re working with genre material, you can still bring some creativity to it.
unfortunately, though, hostage ultimately fails to deliver upon its clever premise. tension evaporates as the movie goes on and it becomes more and more unbelievable. it becomes harder and harder to figure out each character’s motivation and goal. BRUCE seems to be able to enter and exit the house at will. one of the villains goes so over the top at the end that you would think he’s related to jason voorhees.
as far as BRUCEology goes, it’s on about the same level as surrogates and lucky number slevin. it’s more unique and inventive than 16 blocks. he has a surprisingly heartbreaking scene with the kid when they talk about video games and the kid asks if he’s going to save the day. what’s great is that BRUCE kind of cries and without any dialogues, we see the uncertainty in his face, which is not something we would see from john mcclane. of course, he’s also great with kids in the sixth sense and disney’s the kid (it’ll be good for us to forget mercury rising and north). one of the masked anonymous villains is apparently played by kim coates, not that you could see his face in the movie. coates played chet, the guy who punched BRUCE and took away his lighter in the last boy scout. interestingly, he’s also in the die hard-ish movies lethal tender, unstoppable (the danzel one, not the wesley snipes one), in addition to the american remake of assault on precinct 13. as far as the die hard(-ish) cannon, there are fake/unreliable fbi guys who show up to take over the situation. i like the fact that the kid is the one who crawls through the vents in the house, and BRUCE is now old enough to play the al role in a movie.
hostage is overall more speed-ish than die hard-ish, where there are three die hard-ish scenarios and by the time the final sequence comes around, you feel tired rather than excited. it’s always nice to see a sideway/profile shot of BRUCE firing a gun but in this movie, it feels more like a betrayal of all the previous scenes rather than a suitable climax.
the movie is based on the robert crais novel of the same name. from what wikipedia told me, it seems like the screenplay by doug richardson (writer of die hard 2, bad boys, and money train) actually improves upon its source material. i like the fact that we never find out who the masked villains are. in the book, they are mafia members.
p.s. director florent siri previously worked on two splinter cell video games. he also directed the nest, the french remake of assault on precinct 13, three years before the american remake. that’s kind of die hard-ish, isn’t it?
p.p.s. al leong is credited as one of the stunt performers for the movie. he’s the longhaired asian terrorist in the first die hard movie, the one who took the candy bar in the nakatomi plaza lobby.
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