by Del Harvey
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It’s all a matter of perspective.
Robert Crais is a best-selling novelist whose novel Hostage has been quite successfully adapted to the big screen. Now, if you know me you know what a stickler I am for little details like that. I mean, novels are so hard to adapt to the screen I often feel it’s sometimes best to throw 2/3rds of the original out with the bathwater just to ensure cleanliness. For example, two years ago Clint Eastwood won and Academy Award for his adaptation of Dennis LeHane’s novel Mystic River, even though the final result upon screen was an utter abomination of the original book, devoid of mystery or suspense. Apparently, what do those things really matter as long as Sean Penn can go off on someone whenever he wants?
Which brings us to Hostage. Not only does director Florent Siri (he directed hit French actioner The Nest in 2002) get it right, but Doug Richardson’s adaptation of Crais’ novel offers Willis two opportunities to show us his human side. Yes, Bruce has been trying to break the action mold for decades, but unlike his big box-office counterparts, he actually has the chops to pull it off.
In Hostage he faces a tough but very human dilemma. And, unlike most of the action pics he rose to fame in, his character here is one who is very down-to-Earth and most vulnerable. Now 50, Willis’ Chief Talley is faced with dealing with homicidal maniac Ben Foster (Six Feet Under) and his two early 20’s buddies, neither of whom has enough sense to know when they’ve gotten in too deep. Not only does Foster take them deep fast, he escalates the moment at every opportunity. He’s one cinema psycho who has every seat in the house rooting for his demise; we haven’t seen one of those in a while.
Yes, the film opens with an intense 10 minute segment, but it doesn’t stop there. The pacing is razor sharp and climbs and falls, climbs and falls, rising and rising until the ten-times-more-tense climax and we stay glued to the screen for the whole 120 minutes.
As action films go, Hostage is bound to be one of the best of the year, all that much moreso for its ability to think with that muscle between the ears, and not just the ones in the arms, legs, or trigger finger.
Del Harvey is the founder of Film Monthly and a screenwriter and film teacher living in Chicago.
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