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The movie opens with a very similar and common opening. Willis plays Jeff Talley, a seasoned negotiator for the Los Angeles Police Department. Talley is the kind of man who refuses to lose and in his third major hostage negotiation in the last five days he slips. In an effort to save everyone, his poor decision causes a mother and her son to loss their lives. Full of regret, shame, and unable to handle the outcome he makes a major change in his life. Talley does not return to his job with the LAPD. Instead, he takes a job as the police chief in a small town called Bristo Camino in Ventura County. In Bristo Camino there is virtually no crime. But everything isn't perfect for Talley, as this job put a major gap in Talley's home life. Talley lives in Bristo Camino while his wife and daughter still live in Los Angeles. Of course they visit each other on weekends, but clearly their relationship is deteriorating. This dynamic becomes an important part of the internal struggle Talley must face later in the movie.
The story continues on by introducing another two set of characters. Kevin Pollak plays Walter Smith, who is an accountant for individuals with a questionable background. He has two kids who get quite a lot of camera time in the movie. They are Tommy (Jimmy Bennett) and Jennifer (Michelle Horn). Both are young kids who get mixed up in a terrible event. The other set of characters are three delinquents. The leader Dennis is played by Jonathan Tucker, a name some will know for his role in 100 Girls. Joining him is his younger brother Kevin (Marshall Allman) and a Marilyn Mason like creep named Mars (Ben Foster). These three hoodlums are the ones at the bottom of all the trouble. They follow the Smith family to their secluded rich home in Bristo Camino to steal their car.
It is at this point that the three different groups begin to collide. The car theft attempt goes sour, and Dennis and his small gang take the Smith family hostage. As police chief of Bristo Camino, Talley gets put in charge of the situation. It's his worst nightmare, the events of the previous year occurring again. He eagerly hands over the situation to the county cops. Unfortunately, Talley's life changes when Smith's questionable employers kidnap Talley's wife and daughter and blackmail him into getting critical information that only Smith is privy to. The story really begins to unfold at this point, and Talley is forced to face his inner demons. Not only are the lives of the Smith family in his hands, but his own family is a stack. He must make decisions he never wanted to consider again. It becomes interesting to watch how Willis faces these issues and how he deals with them.
The other perspectives are shown through the Smith kids and the hoodlums. Specifically how the Smith kids deal with the situation. But what becomes intriguing is watching the hoodlums interact. There is some internal strife in their ranks. Mars is a pretty messed up kid. Dennis and Kevin, who are brothers, are constantly arguing about how they should proceed. He's constantly fighting with himself and his brother to do the right thing, which is to give in to the police. All the while messed up Mars is off on his own quest to find a girlfriend, who happens to be the scared out of her mind Jennifer.
The unfortunate part is none of the characters and their interactions came off particularly strong. Of them all, seasoned actor Bruce Willis shined to a certain degree. The other roles, with the exception of Ben Foster as Mars, could have easily been replaced with someone else and the story's overall effect probably wouldn't have suffered. I felt Foster's role as Mars was quite strong. He did a great job turning his role into a sick and twisted guy who just creeps you out.
The story also tries to take a suspenseful approach but really fails. In many situations a character is running against time and could be caught at any moment, but you really have an idea of the outcome. What kind of Hollywood movie would be if the bad guy won? The suspense factor is fairly minimal. Similarly, the story can also be quite transparent and it is not hard to see what is going to happen next. The movie also deviates from reality on more than one occasion. In most cases it came be harmful to the overall movie.
In the end, Hostage is not a great movie. The performances are not top notch and the story has a few too many holes. The bottom line is despite Hostage's limitations, it can be fun watch. Of course if you happen to skip it, you won't be missing much.