Action Heroes – Willis: Hostage

Hostage is a rare action thriller in that, unlike most Hollywood action films, this has a sense of class and style that can only be described as European. Thankfully director Florent Emilio Siri, who had previously helmed Nid de Guepes (or The Nest if you’d rather), showed what all modern action films were missing: tension and suspense. With Hostage we are treated to that in spades as it is violent, claustrophobic and incredibly well shot. Willis might not be as cocky or self assured, but thankfully he still has the physicality to carry him through the films fine action sequences.

After what could be described as the best use of opening titles to any action film we are treated to Officer Jeff Talley (Willis) knee deep in a hostage negotiation on a hot summers day. Like any good action hero he tries to do the best he can, but ultimately this leads to the death of his hostage and the death of a baby boy. Flash forward a few months and old Brucie has upped sticks and moved to a quiet little suburb in the Californian Hills. What follows next is an intricate (if a little convoluted) hostage and heist situation revolving around a very high tech house.

While it is not filled to the brim with action set pieces (in the vein of say either Die Hard or The Fifth Element) it does contain moments of nerve shredding suspense and absolute brutality that would make Liam Nesson blush. It is far from Willis’s best feature of late (that honor goes to R.E.D which is highly underrated) but it is enjoyable for a late night Friday night viewing with a few drinks.

It even throws in two underused actors in the form of Kevin Pollock (who is yet again, underused) and the consistently brilliant Ben Foster as the greasy criminal breaking into the high tech home. It’s not without its faults though as some of the writing is clunkier than a bag of coppers and the plot throws in a maguffin at the last moment. Those that know what a maguffin is; you will know how frustrating it will be in the last 30 or so minutes. Those that do not know what a maguffin is, well shame on you.

Director Siri really does know how to orchestrate some standout moments of nail biting tension including; a chase through the ventilation ducts, a great use of slow-motion for an impressive fire stunt towards the end of the film (which even includes Foster being lit on fire minus any CGI enhancement) and a climatic Mexican stand-off with Willis, some duck tape and a handgun. The final stand-off itself is probably one of the most understated climaxes I have seen in a recent action film, maybe even in a Bruce Willis film, there’re no explosions.

What we are left with after the credits roll is a decidedly modern action thriller with a European sensibility, which as I have mentioned, is almost pitch perfect when turned to 11 on the tension scale. It is easy to see why Siri did so well as the creative director for the first three Splinter Cell games as he is the master of the modern thriller, crafting sweat inducing moments of foreboding. Just look at how well received those games where, the broke the mold. It also goes to show how much Michael Bay has deformed the recent action film with his loud bangs and migraine inducing editing techniques.

In Hostage we have two old styles (80s action hero mixed with 70s thriller) to produce something that goes back to basics, but at the same time still manages to feel fresh. It’s not perfect, but it is pretty darn close to action thriller brilliance. Now if someone in Hollywood could give Siri another project that would be great, his style is certainly expertly crafted. I wonder what his take on Die Hard would be?

Dominic O’Brien

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