I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

Hostage

Legend has it that the times we’re in create the movies we watch. Sometimes on purpose, sometimes subconsciously. I mean who the fuck knows how it happens but the fears and the turbulence and the shittiness of troubled times somehow soaks into the celluloid and poisons the screen. So Vietnam and racial unrest soaked into the PLANET OF THE APES pictures, for example. The atomic age bred giant crabs, Hiroshima gave birth to Godzilla, Ronald Reagan caused ROCKY 4 and RED DAWN, AIDS made THE FLY.

Well, HOSTAGE is not a political movie but it is a Bruce Willis action thriller for the fucked up age we are currently being sat on by. In the DIE HARD pictures he fought terrorists, so now that terrorism is more of a realistic threat, he’s going back to fighting criminals again. But because it’s the Bush era, this is a dark, ugly, sometimes gorey thriller. A story about a bunch of psychotic, sadistic, greedy assholes terrorizing each other, and all the rest of us who get caught in the middle. A movie that wears a mask and has your wife and daughter tied and gagged in the back of a van and forces you to break your moral code and risk your life to get what it wants. It’s a real intense, well made thriller but what I’m saying is, this is 2005. Don’t expect to get blown through the back wall of the theater and have a good time and all that.

The movie opens a year ago, when Bruce had long gray hair and an ugly beard, and liked to absent mindedly comb his beard to show off that he really grew it for the role. After one bad day on the job as a hostage negotiator in Los Angeles, he decides to throw in the towel, shave his hair, move out to the suburbs and become chief of police. He wears glasses though so you know he’s a small town chief of police, not some asshole chief that yells at you and wants you in his office NOW. He’s buddy buddy with everybody. He’s a cool boss.

HostageSome shit goes down though with three rebellious teenagers in a redneck style pickup truck. They get mad at a girl so they follow her family home to their mansion and try to steal their ESCALADE(tm) brand transportation machine, end up in a spontaneous home invasion, etc. These are 2005 style troublemakers, so they have a sort of fetishized Hollywood dirtiness, where they have long uncombed hair and spray on sweat and dirty Working Class clothes. The three dudes have 3 levels of bad-guyness. One is the little brother, so he has a conscience and tries to stop them from doing everything, and wouldn’t even be a bad guy if he just took the bus home instead of riding around with his stupid older brother Dennis and his friend Mars. Mars is top level bad guy, over the top nutbag with a traumatic past, sexual frustration and enjoys watching people die. Then the other guy Dennis is just medium bad guy, “this bowl of porridge is just right” kind of thing, so he gets to be the leader.

Next thing you know there’s some bodies, it’s a stand off, the house is surrounded by cops and Bruce is trying to talk them out but with more of a cold, tough stance due to his bad experiences one year ago when he had a beard. Now, sometimes in a DIE HARD or a DIE HARD ripoff, there is a point where it is out of the hero’s hands, he is safe and should go home and let the police take care of it, but instead he decides to hop on a helicopter or something and go after the bad guy and blow him up. That’s not Bruce in this movie. The sherriff’s department shows up and takes over, he wishes them luck and drives away. The end.

Well, no, that’s not the end. See then it turns out, funny story, the man of the house (comedian/Usual Suspect Kevin Pollak) is an accountant for organized crime and has an important computer disc hidden inside a DVD case. Could cause some problems, apparently. So some scary ski-masked mob enforcer types kidnap Bruce’s wife and kid and force him to go back, re-assume command and make sure nobody goes in or out of the house until “our people” get there.

A note about the DVD being used as the mcmuffin in this movie. If some time in the future I happen to write an action movie where Steven Seagal is an ex-CIA video store clerk who has to fight off a team of highly trained mercenaries searching for weapons codes on a disc that accidentally got returned to the video store, be advised that I came up with that idea BEFORE this movie, and I never even heard of the book. It is not a copy of this movie, no matter how much I like Bruce.

Another thing. In DIE HARD type movies, it is amazing how many human sized air vents there are in buildings, that you’re able to crawl around in. This family, because they are so rich, they have those type of vents in their own house. And the little boy Tommy, he knows how to climb through them and get anywhere in the house. (They make it more believable by making it his fort or clubhouse, with all kind of toys and an area labelled “BUG LAND” with magnetic letters. Because kids like bugs.)

So the kid gets away from the home invaders, calls up Bruce, and Bruce finds himself in the amoral situation of giving this kid advice while having a conflict of interest, that he needs to save his own family even more than he needs to save this one. Because he likes his alot. And then more complications keep happening, things keep getting worse, etc.

You know, come to think of it, you probaly saw the trailer and know all this anyway. Sorry about this review friends. One thing you don’t know from the trailer though: real good opening credits. It’s somewhere in between an old fashioned Saul Bass type credits sequence and modern show offy CGI bullet time type shenanigans. Good job on that one, designer people.

Anyway, Bruce is real good in this one, a grim and serious tough guy role. He’s friendly and peaceful in the beginning but then he gets Pushed To The Edge and has to do what he has to do. What’s nice though is that’s more about risking his own life than going apeshit on some motherfucker. Here is a BIG ASS RUIN THE ENDING SPOILER now. When the bad guys first don’t show their faces, they have Bruce look in the rear view mirror and see his wife and kid tied up and gagged in the back of a van. Then near the end of the movie there is a similar scene where Bruce tells Kevin Pollak to look out the window – and see that his children are alive and getting medical help, because Bruce just saved them. This is the scene that shows what my man Bruce is all about. The bad guys tell you to look and see that they have your family so you better do what they say or they’ll get killed. Bruce tells you to look and see that he saved your family, so you oughta help him out or you’re an asshole.

John McTiernan made DIE HARD more humorous and less grim than the book it was based on, Nothing Lasts Forever, because he said he wanted it to be a movie with “joy” in it. This is not a movie with joy in it. This is a movie that does not like joy at all. Bruce doesn’t do alot of wisecracking or running around getting upset saying “JESUS CHRIST! FUCK ME MAN, FUCK ME!” He’s more of a quiet, grimacing type. But it’s a good joyless movie. This is not one of those lemons Bruce does alot of the time. This is a good circa 2005 sicko Bruce movie.

That’s all though.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Monday, March 14th, 2005 at 4:09 pm and is filed under Action, Bruce, Crime, Drama, Reviews, Thriller. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

12 Responses to “Hostage”

  1. I can’t really say why but I’ve always liked this one, despite it being one of those no-fun-at-all escapist thrillers they got nowadays. Maybe it’s Ben Foster as Muppet Baby Brad Dourif. Maybe it’s the old-fashioned squibs instead of CGI blood or unsatisfying pink-misting air cannons. Maybe it’s the directorial style that manages to combine 21st century “grittiness” with 20th century “planning out your shots ahead of time so you know what goes where and in what order like fuckin’ Hitchcock used to do you lazy ass.” Maybe it’s the little touches that show a director with a real eye. Every now and then it turns from a neo-noir into a giallo, like the shot where Bruce is looking at his family all tied up and he’s freaking out and stomping on the pedals so he’s bathing them in red from his brake lights. Or the one where the lady cop gets shot and the bullet spins her around and you get a POV of her looking out over this beautiful vista for an elongated second before she gets shot again.

    Or maybe it’s just because they went to the trouble of remembering that there are two versions of HEAVEN CAN WAIT but they never tried any lame-ass bait-and-switch shenanigans with them.

    Anyway, as far as phoning-it-in Bruce is concerned, I think this is one of the good ones.

  2. I actually did see this one on dvd back in 2005 as a matter of fact, but all I really remember is the stylish opening credits and that guy getting stabbed in the mouth

  3. This one is actually one of my favourite examples when I want to prove that a good director can elevate a shitty script. What happened to Florent Siri anyway? Afterwards he made one war movie back in France and then he disappeared.

    I just checked IMDB. Last year he made a biopic about a French popstar, but so far he doesn’t seem to have any other projects listed. What a shame.

  4. Yep, this is a good one – very raw for what I expected to be a Bruce-for-Paycheck movie. I seem to recall seeing the guy that plays Dennis on a lot of things like LAW & ORDER and other movies around that time and he was kind of being presented as what Joseph Gordon-Levitt has become. And the title sequence was great but I couldn’t applaud the use of an amateurish, fan-made STAR WARS font.

    Petty, but it really annoys me.

  5. Also I really want to see that Seagal-as-video-store-clerk movie. Today it’s even more relevant than ever, with Netflix and Co killing all outside world video stores.

  6. The original Paul

    August 5th, 2013 at 12:11 pm

    I think everybody involved in this movie had more talent than the movie allowed them to showcase. I think CJ hit the point perfectly, actually. Some very good direction but a really bad script that seems constantly more restrained than it should be. This might be the only movie ever made that I feel justified criticising for a lack of rape. I know the whole point of that scene was that the teenage daughter showed enough savvy to keep the psycho from doing something really bad to her, but all it really accomplished was weakening the psycho. If they did something like with Kate Mara in “Shooter” – where it’s made very, very clear that something happened, but we’re never told or shown exactly what – then it would at least have raised the tension somewhat.

    Watching this movie, I got the weirdest impression that everybody in it was either a cliche, a cartoon or a nonentity. Nobody ever seemed like a human being. I found it impossible to invest in.

    In all good conscience I couldn’t recommend this one as an oddity, nor could I recommend it as an actual good movie. It’s worth seeing on TV if nothing else is on. Having said that, listen to the soundtrack on the opening titles. You’ll recognise it from every European TV program ever made from that year onwards. Why European? Because most of the copyright laws over here allow for that sort of thing without any risk of lawyerly backlash.

  7. The original Paul

    August 5th, 2013 at 12:16 pm

    Don’t want to give the wrong impression in the post above, by the way. I don’t take rape lightly – very far from it. But this is a movie with a character who basically sets a whole bunch of people on fire, for fun. If you’re willing to go into that kind of over-the-top violence, you can’t then put your characters in situations like that and not have at least something happen as a result of it. It just doesn’t work.

  8. I remember when this came out it was suggested this was Bruce warming up for another DIE HARD. Well, it would be depressingly easy and obvious to make me say I wish A GOOD TO DIE HARD had been as good as this movie, but I just did it anyway.

  9. Nah, Paul, you’re getting that character all wrong. It wasn’t like that with that girl. He liked her because she seemed pure and clean and from a completely different world. If he wanted to just fuck her, he could have done that. Nobody could have stopped him. But he wanted her to like him and see the vulnerable side that he kept hidden. He wanted her to be his Mallory, not his victim. What was creepy about the character was that he had love to give, but no non-evil ways of expressing it. She was his last tenuous link to sanity, his last hope for a human connection. It was only when she rejected him that he went completely berserk and started killing everything in sight.

  10. The original Paul

    August 6th, 2013 at 11:52 am

    Majestyk – good point. I retract my specific point there (but retain the more general one).

    In my defence, it’s a few years since I saw this movie; and back then, most of it just bored me.

  11. The original Paul

    August 6th, 2013 at 11:54 am

    “Murder on the Orient Express” is one-third exposition (the last third of the film is basically one man explaining everything, followed by one brilliant murder scene.) And it’s still bloody good.

    Exposition is a tool like anything else. It can be used or mis-used. And when it is used, not everyone’s gonna like it.

  12. The original Paul

    August 6th, 2013 at 11:55 am

    Erm.. wut?

    I was replying to a post in another damn thread… the fuck did it get there? I’m going mad…

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