Hostage (9/10)

by Tony Medley

While this stars Bruce Willis, the house in which it was filmed, located in Topanga Canyon, just north of Los Angeles off Pacific Coast Highway, is as much of a character as any of the actors. Perhaps not since “Psycho” (1960) has a house had as much of a presence in a major motion picture. Sitting atop a hill, the home of one of the victims, Walter Smith (Kevin Pollack), is a modern-day fortress with security cameras in every room, steel-reinforced windows, hidden panels, surveillance equipment, sensors, intercoms, and an electronic security gate. Once the bad guys get inside, they are virtually impregnable. And Smith might not be such an innocent victim after all.

Jeff Talley (Willis, who co-produced) is Chief of Police of the small Ventura County town of Bristo Camino after acting as an LAPD negotiator with a SWAT team. He has a troubled family but is quickly enmeshed in a horrible situation as three bad guys, Mars Krupcheck (Ben Foster), Dennis Kelly (Jonathan Tucker), and Kevin Kelly (Marshall Allman), invade Smith’s house and take him and his two children, Tommy (Jimmy Bennett) and Jennifer (Michelle Horn), hostage after initially trying to steal Smith’s Cadillac Escalade. Worse, Jeff’s wife and daughter are taken hostage also by some bad guys who want something from Smith’s house and demand that Jeff get it for them.

This is just a terrific, tension filled action movie, the kind Willis does so well. All the actors are good, but especially Foster, who plays the psychopath Mars, and Bennett, who plays the young boy Tommy. “Hostage” (based on the book of the same name by Robert Crais) is director Florent Siri’s first English-language film and it’s a smashing debut.

Unlike Willis’s other action films, this one is rife with the lives of the characters. Mars and the Kelly brothers have a relationship that is not the norm. They are three completely different people and react to the situation completely differently. The two Smith children also become involved more than just cardboard characters. Mars lusts after Jennifer and their relationship adds to the tension as Foster does a compelling job of creating a terror-creating character out of Mars, who seems so sympathetic at times.

Although the running time is 113 minutes, the tension never lets up. This is a terrific entertainment.

February 17, 2005