“Typecasting” is as dirty a word to Hollywood actors as “it” is to the Knights of Nee. Why else is Robert Davi cast a villain in all of his movies? But typecasting is not always a bad thing. Often it provides the nectar of comfortable familiarity to soothe the expectations of an eager audience. Higher-up on that scale, type can cast a perpetual shiny veneer of iconography to a select group of actors; where type becomes archetype. Thus, John Wayne will always be remembered as the rough and tumble cowboy, Edward G. Robinson as the hard-boiled gangster. With Florent Emilio Siri’s HOSTAGE, Bruce Willis officially offers his archetype candidacy as the hardened, blue-collar cop in dire need of redemption.
One of the keys to ascension to archetype status is durability and adaptability over time. Starting famously with DIE HARD in 1988, Willis’s John McClane was a perfect masculine American answer to continued post-Vietnam frailties and the xenophobic fears of Japanese fiscal superiority that dominated the day’s headlines. Likewise, in 2005, Willis’s Jeff Talley arrives amidst contemporary fears of terrorism and a faceless enemy. In both cases, these characters’ broken family histories and desire for salvation make them an easily identifiable pill for an audience to swallow. Likewise, it assures us that we can sleep safer and easier (for two hours, at least) knowing that these last boy scouts are on watch.
HOSTAGE opens with Talley acting on task as Los Angeles’s top hostage negotiator. Things go awry quickly, as a chilling turn of events leaves him feeling responsible for the doomed fates of a woman and her young son at the hands of a crazed psychopath. Leaving that harsh spotlight, Talley resurfaces a year later as the police chief in a small, quiet California town in Ventura County. Small and quiet turns big, loud and ugly when three no-good teenagers attempt to car-jack Walter Smith (Kevin Pollack), a rich accountant and his teenaged daughter and younger son. Things go awry (again!) and the delinquents are forced to hold the family hostage inside their own impenetrable fortress of a home. Further complicating matters, a shadowy organization will stop at nothing to get inside and steal a DVD tha contains vital shadowy organization financial information. When his own family is brought into the fray, Talley must spring back into action.
Forget for a moment that Columbine seems to have taught Hollywood that white teenagers are evil, or that light is never shed on the whos or whys behind said shadowy organization (I’m an American, I want the truth!), or that what starts out as an interesting suspense thriller premise literally goes up in the flames of convention and bombast. There is a highly redemptive thought on HOSTAGE that the kindness of retrospect has granted me. Consider the Smiths’ compound, outfitted with the very latest in security technology as analagous to our own pre-9/11 notion that our national boundaries were impassable. Allow then that the three measly truants were able to penetrate the compound and wreak havoc much as a small band of terrorists did on that fateful day. The faceless, nameless “shadowy organization” can then be compared to the intangible yet fully real resulting fears of terrorism that still paralyze us to this day. Finally, it is up to Talley, the blue-collar cop, the strong American patriarch, the face for our own armed forces and protective law enforcement, to restore order, to fight for and save us.
Is this too simplistic? Perhaps. But remember that art is always directly influenced by the surrounding times it was created in, whether its creators are conscious of it or not. It is thus strangely comforting in today’s pop culture environment, where Wayne’s cowboys have long gone out to pasture and nerdy scientists rescue the world from CGI mayhem, that Willis’s characters stand watch to do the real dirty work.