"Hostage" is a well-written, well-acted, and well-made thriller that hosts the return of Bruce Willis to his true action-thriller roots. It is also a warm-up exercise for the veteran, who announced a week before the film's theatrical release that he has every intention of returning for a fourth "Die Hard" installment. Whether or not he will follow through on this, he reminds us in this movie that he is still at the top of his game. And when, may I ask, will the bad guys learn that you just don't mess around with Bruce Willis?
One year after negotiating a hostage situation that ended in tragedy, Jeff Talley (Bruce Willis) is the chief of police in Ventura County, California. His marriage with Jane (Serena Scott Thomas) is on the rocks, he is at odds with his daughter Amanda (Willis` real-life daughter, Rumer Willis), and, as would be expected, the past is haunting him mercilessly. Talley is having trouble coping with not being able to save a little boy's life, which is why he retired from being a negotiator and took a less stressful job.
What begins as a "low crime Monday" in Talley's quiet town turns into a nightmare when a trio of troublesome teenagers--comprised of brothers Dennis and Kevin (Jonathan Tucker and Marshall Allman) and their buddy Mars (Ben Foster)--invade the highly secured mountaintop mansion of wealthy accountant Walter Smith (Kevin Pollak). The punks have the simple intention of stealing Walter's Escalade, but when a silent alarm is tripped and an investigating police officer is shot, they take Walter, his teenage daughter Jennifer (Michelle Horn), and his young son Tommy (Jimmy Bennett) hostage.
Talley arrives on the scene with backup and finds himself talking to Dennis, but having lost one officer already motivates him to turn authority over to the county police. However, Talley is stopped by a second group of villains--unaffiliated with Dennis, Kevin, and Mars--who have taken his wife and daughter hostage. He is instructed by their masked leader to return to the house and retrieve a cryptic DVD or his family will die. This plot device is completely brilliant. It takes "Hostage" out of the usual atmosphere of its genre, giving it a grand and gallant complexity that saves it from being typical.
Its a bizarre coincidence that three teenage punks unwittingly interfere with the plans of professional criminals. Bizarre, too, is the film's suggestion that Tommy can break his sister's glass bong, slice his hand, cut through tape that is binding his wrists, and squirm his way through the roomy crawl space of the house. The film also expects us to believe that air ducts are spacious enough to crawl through, but without this, a key chase scene would not be possible.
When the three teenagers are inside and figure out how to activate the mansion's safeguards, it seems nearly impossible for Talley to penetrate the house and retrieve the DVD. Dennis is the voice of the group and, assumingly, the man in charge, while his kid brother Kevin is more passive and conscientious. Mars (a brilliant performance by Ben Foster) is a shadowy customer, who lingers among Dennis and Kevin with sinister instinct and develops a lustful obsession with Jennifer.
As the second hour of the film unfolds, we begin to study the changing persona of Talley. What really motivates him? Viewers will be debating this with their friends on the ride home from the theater. Is he trying to save the Smith family or his own? Upon escaping, little Tommy manages to contact Talley, and Talley is willing to put Tommy in jeopardy so that he can retrieve what the masked men want. On this side of the argument, the Smiths are disposable. But later, during one of the film's many thrilling instances, Talley is suddenly obliged to save the Smiths, determined not to relive the crisis that he experienced one year ago. Through this and many other moments, including a touching scene where Talley gives a video game analogy of the situation to Tommy, Bruce Willis proves that he is still a strong actor who doesn't settle for giving one hundred percent.
What drives "Hostage'' is a screenplay populated with emotion and moments of overwhelming intensity. It also initiates moments of abrupt graphic violence and unexpected deaths, in which we come to realize that the situation is more serious and brutal than it appears to be. The screenplay is driven by characters who are portrayed with skill. The beautiful and talented Michelle Horn succeeds with Jennifer; the cute and lovable Jimmy Bennett is already a pro; Jonathan Tucker and Marshall Allman mix guilt and innocence with their respective characters. But it is Ben Foster who steals the show as Mars, who, along with Kiefer Sutherland`s caller in "Phone Booth," is one of the best movie villains in recent years. The cold-heartedness and psychosis that Foster brings to his character is likely to have him typecast for the majority of his career.
However routine and cliched the film may be, director Florent Siri ensures that everything be spellbinding, and what results is an exciting, suspenseful thriller. The house that a majority of the film takes place in exists as a remarkable set piece and, much like the panic room from David Koepp's 2002 film, is a character in the film in a lot of ways. You even start to wonder if the house has a mind of its own, because after the thirty minute mark, you can tell that the film does.
Rated R; 113 minutes; Directed by Florent Emilio Siri