Florent Siri's 2005 action/thriller Hostage was a bit of a sleeper. It seems that a lot of people expected crazy Matrix style action scenes and rapid fire editing but instead what they got was a clever and suspenseful film with good performances and an emphasis on the story as opposed to the gun play.
Bruce Willis plays Jeff Talley, a tough guy with a big heart (a real stretch for Willis there) who used to be a hostage negotiator who has since taken a job as the chief of police in a small California town after a young boy was killed on his last big job, shot to death by his crazed father. Aside from the everyday problems or marital stress with his wife, and the issues commonly posed by his teenage daughter, Talley's also got to worry about work and about paying the bills. Little does he know how much more he'll have to worry about as this day moves on, however, when a gang of three thugs in a pickup truck decide to steal a wealthy man's SUV for kicks. The thugs follow the vehicle back to the man's house and when the cops show up before they can make a break for it, they knock the man out and hold his young boy and teenage daughter hostage. The police scramble to the scene but an officer is soon killed in the line of duty and it isn't long before the Feds show up and take control.
Talley is content to let the Feds handle the case until he finds out that the man who owns the house where this is all going down is an accountant named Walter Smith (Kevin Pollack) who has some ties to a crime ring who will stop at nothing to get some information hidden inside a DVD out of Smith's house before it's too late. To get their way, they kidnap Talley's wife and daughter and hold them as bait to get him to turn the situation to their favor, regardless of who gets killed in the process.
Hostage moves at a good pace - not too fast, not too slow - and it lets you get to know Willis' character enough to make him a sympathetic and believable hero. He gives one of the better performances I've seen from him and he does a good job with the tough guy parts as well as the more melancholy moments in the movie as well. Kevin Pollack is also quite good as Smith, and his character is a little trickier. Despite the fact that we know he's been up to no good and is involved with some people he probably shouldn't be involved with, his interaction with his kids makes him easy to identify. Jimmy Bennett and Michelle Horn, who played his son and daughter respectively, are also very good and don't ever hit that level of annoying forced acting that so many younger performers unfortunately bring to the screen. The interplay between their characters and the three thugs who hold them hostage makes for an interesting dynamic and a worthy subplot that makes things a little more interesting as the story plays out.
Siri's direction is confident and assured and the cinematography from Italian photographer Giovanni Fiore Coltellacci is superb, doing a great job with the lighting and the shadows in the movie. The camera captures the action as well as it does the quieter, character driven moments and the movie is very well put together in terms of composition and color scheme. The editing is tight without being overbearing and the effects work and stunt work is refreshingly low key and realistic enough so as not to pull you out of the movie.
While the ending might be a little predictable and at times the film plays around with some cliches and minor stereotypes (the three thugs in particular... how many times to we need the 'bad teens' to look like they were part of the Trench Coat Mafia?) Hostage gets enough right in terms of visuals and storytelling to make for an entertaining thriller. Couple that with an great performance from Willis and you've got a movie worth watching.
Hostage looks good in this AVC encoded 2.35.1 widescreen 1080p high definition transfer that presents the film in its original theatrical aspect ratio. There's a bit of grain here and there, as there should be, but no problems with any actual print damage to note. Skin tones look nice and natural and color reproduction is spot on, taking the film's rather muted looking color palette and replicating it quite nicely. Black levels are strong and the film's many night time scenes are handled well, showing good shadow detail and a nice lack of compression artifacts or heavy crush. Detail is improved across the board over what was provided on the DVD release (which looked good for its time), not just in close up shots, though they tend to be the most obvious examples, but also in medium and long distance shots letting you take in the sets and locations used throughout the movie. Lionsgate have done a very solid job here, the movie looks great.
The English language DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track on this disc is also impressive, offering a nice, strong low end during the action scenes and sending gun shots and effects at you from a few interesting angles to heighten tension and suspense. At the same time, the more dramatic aspects also sound great, with some nice ambient noise helping to build mood and with dialogue always crystal clear and easy to follow. Levels are well balanced throughout and there are no problems with any hiss or distortion of note. All in all, this is a clean, clear and very engrossing mix that helps pull you into the movie.
Extras are carried over from the DVD release from a few years back, but none are given any sort of HD upgrade here. Regardless, first up is a full length commentary track with the director of the film, Florent Siri. The man has a lot to say about the film and he covers not only the production history, but how Willis came to be chosen for the role as well as some of the details of the source material that the movie was based on as well. This track does a nice job of straddling the line between trivia and technical information and Siri seems like a pretty sharp guy on this commentary. He details how some of the shot setups were done, how some of the effects and action scenes were handled, and also goes into some depth about post production and what was changed or added as the production moved along.
Miramax has also supplied a twelve minute making of featurette entitled Taken Hostage that provides some quick on camera interview bits with most of the cast members as well as the director, spliced in between some raw behind the scenes footage and candid on set material. Sadly, after the rather good commentary track, this piece was a letdown. It feels more like a lengthy and glorified advertisement for the film than a true documentary on the making of the movie. There's very little substance to it, and the majority of time is taken up by talking about how good various aspects of it are.
Up next are six deleted scenes and two extended scenes, all of which have optional commentary from Florent Siri as well. Most of these scenes are pretty short and were cut for pacing reasons but a couple of them do answer a few questions about some of the characters in the film, the villains in particular (you'll find some more information about the discussed carjacking in here, as well as some decent character development bits for Willis' character). There's nothing that will make or break the movie for you in here, but these are worth checking out.
Rounding out the extra features are trailers for a few other Lionsgate releases, but oddly enough no trailer for Hostage itself. Animated menus and chapter selection for the feature are also found on the disc.
Hostage was a surprisingly good action/thriller with some nice dramatic moments, some great cinematography, a few interesting plot twists and a very good lead performance from Bruce Willis. While Lionsgate Blu-ray release could have used a few new supplements to go along with what's been carried over from the DVD, the audio and the video presentations are top notch and offer a noticeable and substantial upgrade over that DVD. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.