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Over the past few years there have been a batch of hostage movies which have been released with the same theme. That theme is average man looses job/life and decides to take matters into his own hands. Films such as ‘The Negotiator’ and more recently ‘John Q’ have all involved desperate family men taking people hostage in an attempt to get their lives back to normal. Mad City was one of the first with this theme to be released. It has now finally received its DVD release on region two, so fans of the movie can relive this tense hostage movie.

I wish I had never done Battlefield Earth!
Max Brackett (Dustin Hoffman) is a local TV reporter who has seen his career take a downward spiral over the last couple of years. Max used to work for the network but was relegated to the television minor leagues because he couldn’t control his temper on live TV. His boss, Lou Potts (Prosky) seems content with small news stories and doesn’t really have any desire to take on controversial stories likely to improve ratings. Lou gets nervous whenever Max shows ambition, so decides to calm him down by sending him down to the local museum to do a ‘feel-good’ interview. The museum is in financial trouble and has had to sack staff in order to cut costs.

While at the museum Max has the misfortune to meet Sam Baily (John Travolta). Sam is an ex security guard at the museum. He has lost his job as part of the cut backs and is trying to persuade his boss to give him his job back. His plea doesn’t have any impact on his hardened manager, so Sam loses his patience and turns to plan B. Plan B however, is more drastic and involves guns and dynamite. In a moment of madness Sam closes all the exits to the museum, and takes his boss and other visitors to the museum (a group of school children) hostage.  Things go from bad to worse for Sam when he accidentally shoots his fellow security guard.

Max sees the hostile events from the gent’s toilet and immediately contacts his novice camerawoman who is located outside the museum. Keen to boost his career Max sees the hostage situation as an exclusive and decides to broadcast events live from within the museum. Max’s hiding place and broadcast is soon discovered by Sam, which infuriates the hostage taker even further. Sam starts to wish he hadn’t been so rash and realises that Max is willing to help defuse the situation. Max obviously acts sympathetically, but is actually only thinking about how he can further his own career. Max cunningly sets up an exclusive interview with Sam and also acts as his negotiator. As the siege escalates, it becomes clear that Sam is not going to be able escape unpunished. Outside the museum there is a huge media presence and crowd. At first Sam is perceived by to the public to be an innocent guy, who made a silly mistake, but as incidents unfold he quickly becomes unpopular.

Mad City is an extremely clever film which deals with some original ideas. As mentioned at the beginning of this review Mad City was one of the first films to deal with characters acting rashly under extreme pressure. Well, in this movie Sam’s world seems destroyed when he loses his job. He realises that he can no longer support his family financially and makes a rash decision in the museum. Another area that Mad City deals with well is how the media can influence matters. Max is a clever TV reporter and knows exactly how to influence Sam’s decisions. He prolongs the siege because he knows it will make him more high profile and possibly bring about a job promotion. However it all backfires towards the end of the movie, which makes interesting viewing.

I know of a few people who dislike this movie. They don’t know whether to take it seriously and this is mostly due to the silly scenes which are occasionally shown throughout the movie. Mad City is supposed to be a thought-provoking movie but sometimes it goes over the top a little. A prime example of this is when we are shown shots of the crowd outside the museum. I can understand that Sam would have some supporters, but the film shows people selling T-shirts (saying “Sam Our Hero!”) and merchandise with Sam plastered all over it. This to me seems a little unrealistic as the police would have cordoned off the area and certainly would not have allowed the area to look like a fun fair! There are other moments like this in the movie which don’t really belong.

I knew I would be on TV one day
The two main actors make this movie a success. John Travolta plays Sam, the simple and naïve hostage taker. This is quite a difficult role for Travolta to play because there are so many different sides to the character of Sam. He can sometimes be quite violent, but at the same time caring and gentle, as can be seen when he looks after some of he child hostages. Travolta does a good job and shows another side to his acting. Mad City was his first film after action movie ‘Face Off’, so it shows that he can play a wide variety of roles. Shame he didn’t pass up the opportunity to star in ‘Battlefield Earth’! Dustin Hoffman has the more straight forward job of playing Max. The character of Max is supposed to be selfish and dislikeable and Hoffman carries this off with supreme confidence. If it wasn’t for these two actors some of the unrealistic scenes would have been farcical.

Mad City is an odd film because depending on the viewer’s mood, it could be taken the wrong way. Personally I think it is meant to be a serious thought-provoking movie but some of the areas it deals with are a little over the top. Overall though it is a well acted, intense thriller which should keep you entertained for a couple of hours.

Mad City is presented with a 2.35:1 Anamorphic Transfer. This transfer is rather average to say the least. Colours seem a little washed out and the transfer doesn’t cope very well with the darker scenes. Overall picture clarity is not bad, but at certain points the appearance is quite grainy.  On the plus side there are no sign of edge enhancement or artefacting. Overall this unspectacular transfer just about does its job.

With a poor visual aspect to this disc I wasn’t really expecting much from the audio side. Thankfully the audio is much better. We are treated to a Dolby Digital 5.1 track which has clear dialogue. The track mostly uses the front speakers but occasionally the rears came into action and provided good support. In particular during a helicopter scene the rears were used rigorously and I was very impressed with the atmosphere created. Mad City is really a dialogue driven movie so I wasn’t expecting much from this track, however, what we are treated to is a welcome surprise! Also included are French and Italian spoken language tracks. The subtitles list makes quite impressive reading as well as there is support for twelve different subtitles.

Dustin Hoffman doing his Close Encounters impression.
Sadly once again Warner has let us down with extras. I have reviewed quite a few Warner releases recently, and most of them at least have a trailer or some kind of visual extras. Unfortunately with this release we are not even given a trailer. At first glance I was quite hopeful of seeing some extras on this disc. The menu system has a section called ‘Special Features’ so realistically you would expect a few options in this section. Well that assumption would be wrong as all we get is a cast and crew list. This list just shows who was involved with the movie. There is not even a section about each member. I know that this disc has a low retail price, but this has to be the worst selection of extras that I have ever seen. A big disappointment.  

Mad City is the type of film that you will either love or hate. Taken the wrong way it could be thought of as comical and embarrassing. I however found it quite entertaining and it allowed me to switch my brain off for a few hours. It is certainly not going to win any awards and is far from being a classic. In my opinion ‘The Negotiator’ is a far better hostage movie, but ‘Mad City’ does have its good moments. As for the disc itself, the transfer is ok but not reference quality and the sound is definitely the highlight of the disc. As for extras, it would be safe to say that they are non-existent and probably the worst set ever included on DVD so far. I would only recommend buying this disc if you are a fan of the movie and even then I would go for the region one disc. At least that contains a trailer and some TV spots!