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The late eighties and early nineties saw a new action hero emerge. He was not a seven-foot Austrian Oak and he couldn’t do high-kicks and the splits. He was most at home in a dirty vest, grumbling about the bad luck he keeps running into. He was John McClane, the hero of the Die Hard films. Soon to be reprising his dirty-vested role in a fourth adventure, Willis has not had as much success outside the vest as he has inside. He hit rock bottom with an abysmal sequel to the already only average Whole Nine Yards comedy but has undergone a slow comeback with his action movies. He was on gritty, grizzly good form in the solid military actioner Tears of the Sun and played it strictly by-the-numbers at his best as a no-nonsense cop in the absolutely stunning, not-to-be-missed Mickey Rourke comeback movie, Sin City. One of Willis’ latest films also saw him as a cop, this time caught up in the very messy world of hostage negotiation.

Jeff Talley is so at home as a negotiator that he lies on rooftops sunbathing and combing his beard whilst talking down angry customers. However, when everything goes wrong and all of his negotiating skills cannot stop the inevitable, he resigns his post and moves out to a sunny southern border state where he sets up shop as the sheriff of a quaint little town called Bristo Camino. He seems to be happy—at least as happy as he can be doing next to nothing—but when a hostage situation arises, all of his old instincts come back and he jumps into action.

Relative novice director Florent Emilio Siri has managed to forge a solid and surprisingly eventful thriller from a reputedly superior book by Robert Crais. Unfortunately the trouble with making judgements like that over which is better lies in the fact that first impressions really make a difference. Seldom will you find that a cinematic interpretation outshines the impression formed when you read a book first and few will enjoy a book as much once they have seen the characters brought to life in a decent fashion on the Big Screen. Lord of the Rings has provoked some heavy debate on the matter but, funnily enough, I can also see why Hostage might have caused a stir—it does feel like a story that would have worked better as a book. You see, the story comprises basically one single ransom scene, but because of the history that they try to sum up in the opening few minutes—largely unsuccessfully—the film loses something that I suspect the book retained. That said, it is still a good effort, playing to its strengths by cranking up the tension and feeding you some real twists along the way, not least the very unusual choice of bad guys.

Surrounded by a largely unknown but well-suited cast is one man and that man is John McClane, sorry, I mean Bruce Willis. Admittedly he has ‘matured’ a bit, losing most of his wisecracks and all of what little hair he had left, but he’s back and, to tell you the truth, he is on pretty good form. Sure the script and story do not call for him to exhibit any particular acting range but it is still nice to have him return to his McClane-variant action-hero persona. It is nice to have him back in a solid cop thriller and I hope that the forthcoming Die Hard 4.0 delivers some decent R-rated action and does not turn into some studio-censored PG-13 tripe à la AvP. In the meantime enjoy a brilliant credits sequence, some clever plot-twists, an action-packed finale and some nice tension along the way. Enjoy the well-chosen cast and the good script, the pacy score and snappy cinematography. Enjoy the return of Bruce Willis.

Hostage is presented in an absolutely stunning 2.35:1 aspect ratio anamorphically enhanced widescreen transfer. More often than not the image seems overly saturated with colours, a technique reminiscent of Tony Scott’s work (most notably Man on Fire). The sweltering sun of the southern states is brought to life with this depiction of colours. The detail is also superb, from every line on Willis’ bald skull to streaking mascara on one of the hostages. There is no softness, with clarity retained throughout. The style of shooting—that Tony Scott ‘glossy yet grimy’ look—means a certain amount of grain occasionally, but it never looks unintentional or out of place, only adding to the atmosphere of the thriller. The transfer exhibits no signs of defects or print damage, remaining excellent right to the end.

The main track is a Dolby Digital 5.1 effort that does this thriller justice, with solid vocals at the forefronts—whether Willis whispering or shouting—and plenty of minute sound effects to bounce off the surrounds. Of course we also get gunfire aplenty, the shots often ringing out both on and off-screen with a resounding punch. The score does a fantastic job of bringing it all together, making you feel uneasy and compounding the tension when the action erupts, also giving the rears almost constant attention. It is a solid audio effort.

First up there is an audio commentary with the director Florent Emilio Siri who clearly knows a great deal about the project. He praises Bruce Willis, citing his masterful ability to emote during the earlier scenes and his change in tempo towards the ending. He also talks a great deal about the changes they had to make, the storyboarding and the script work, but mainly focuses on discussing the motivations of the characters on-screen. Unfortunately a great deal of the information can be gleaned from just watching the movie, but his talk of difficult shots—particularly the helicopter ones—and filming techniques does offer a little insight.

The behind the scenes featurette runs at thirteen minutes in length with plenty of on-set footage. Members of the cast and crew pop up to discuss the aspects of the film and the characters, almost all praising Willis’ contribution to the production, coaching the other actors and improvising masterfully in some of the scenes. Like any behind the scenes documentary, there are the obligatory clips from the final movie, but thankfully almost all of these play with comments over them whilst they are running, making them more valuable rather than just filler. Willis talks about how his real-life daughter had to audition for the role of his on-screen daughter just like anybody else—and prove that she was capable of the part. They discuss the house where most of the story takes place and particularly focus on one of the more heated scenes and how they coped with the inherent problems of filming it. It is a nice documentary, with plenty from the director and some interesting little titbits about the production—if you enjoyed the movie then this is well worth your time.

Next up we get eight deleted and extended scenes with optional commentary by the director Florent Siri who basically states that they were all redundant. Most of them run for about a minute in length and don’t add a great deal to the movie—although occasionally there is a little character development that could have been left in. Almost all of them are new—sure they extended scenes from the movie but this is actually new footage as opposed to some DVD extended scenes which offer a three-minute scene with ten seconds’ difference to the original. Here it’s almost all new stuff, for which I am grateful. If they were going to leave any of these in, it should have been the brief extended action sequence and the extended scene that brings out Willis’ character’s post-trauma suicidal tendencies.

Hostage marks part of a gradual return to form for Bruce Willis. Whilst unexceptional, it is nevertheless a good, solid thriller with a few nice twists that should surprise even the most die hard Willis fan. The transfer is pretty damn good, and the soundtrack pretty punchy, with a trio of beefy extras to keep you entertained after the credits roll. Overall, it is well worth your time and well worth a rental. And if you like it, which I think you will, then this edition is well worth the price too.