The Source for Parents

Movie Reviews
by Jonathan McKee

Hostage (6/21/2005)

Rated R

Directed by Florent Emilio Siri

Starring Bruce Willis, Kevin Pollak, Ben Foster . . .

Jonathan's Rating: Skip it

How do you describe the film Hostage? Let me put it this way: it won’t be up for “Feel-good film of the Year!”

Hostage is intense, dark, violent and eerie. If you like that kind of genre . . . then Hostage delivers. And compared to the film in the theatre next door (Sin City), the film is Ghandi.

But there’s another element to consider—imitate-able behavior—a concept I’ve talked about in the past with films like Peter Bogdanovich’s Targets (1968), Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (1976), and the Hughes brothers’ Menace II Society (1993). It’s a subject that has caused incredible debate over the years. But first . . . a little about the film Hostage.

The synopsis is this: Devastated by an unspeakable tragedy while on the job as a hostage negotiator for the LAPD, Jeff Talley (Bruce Willis) resigns and accepts a low-profile job as the chief of police in the sleepy town of Bristo Camino in Ventura County. On a slow Monday morning Jeff Talley’s job becomes anything but quiet and sets him on a course that could change no only his professional but personal life forever.

When three delinquent teenagers follow a family home intending to steal their car, they get more then they bargained for. The trio finds themselves trapped in a multi-million dollar compound on the outskirts of town with no way to escape. Panicked, they take the family hostage, placing Talley in a situation that he never wanted to face again. He is forced to take on a role he abandoned where the stakes quickly evolve into a hostage situation far more volatile and terrifying than anything he could ever imagine.

I saw this film with another youth worker who’s very in touch with kids today. And we both had the same exact thought: we were reminded of the numerous school shootings in the last decade. Maybe it was just subconscious for me because the dark teenage character named “Mars” was played by Ben Foster who also starred in the Showtime original picture about a school shooting called Bang, Bang, You’re Dead. And maybe it was just that his character Mars was lanky, “Goth” . . . and looked a little similar to certain pictures of Columbine’s Dylan Klebold. Regardless . . . the film definitely portrayed Mars as a sinister, gun slinging . . . dare I say “bad-ass!”

My friend and I both wondered about him as a negative role model. The last thing we want kids picking up from a film about raging teens is “imitate-able” behavior. And to a neglected, awkward or teased teenager, Mars might just be the coolest character they’ve ever seen. And his actions might be just what they’ve been looking for. After all . . . it looked pretty good on film. Take it from Mars himself as he was talking to tied-up Jennifer, after killing a cop. “What was the best day of your life?” he asked. She didn’t respond. He continued, “You can't remember? Mine's today.”

Bottom line: Whether intentional or not, Mars will be seen by some as freakishly cool . . . in the same way that people said Hannibal Lector was “cool.” Mars was probably the eeriest character in the flick. Some of the scenes with Mars were shot so well that I turned to my buddy K.J. and said, “Whoa!” And that’s pretty good . . . to get me to say “Whoa!” (while not horse back riding) (The next sentence contains a spoiler—so if you don’t want to hear a plot point spoiler, skip to the next paragraph.) And it could be argued that in the end, Mars actually dies a martyr’s death, with a redemptive act to save Jennifer.

Let’s face it. Mars will be a role model to some. A hero even.

That scares me.

Yet, some people debate film’s influence in the behaviors of individuals. But how do you debate, for example, John Hinckley Jr.’s fascination with Taxi Driver? In the years leading up to John F. Hinckley Jr.'s attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan he became obsessed with the movie Taxi Driver. Hinckley saw the movie at least fifteen times, read and re-read the book it was based upon, and bought the soundtrack to the film, listening to it for hours on end. Hinckley even began to model certain aspects of his life on the actions of the main character Travis Bickle (Robert DeNiro). The psychiatrist at Hinkley’s trial discussed the film at length, the defendant’s peculiar reactions to it as well as his extreme identification with its mentally sick and homicidal protagonist.

I personally witness the same thing with the kids I worked with and the movie Menace II Society. Kids modeling the character “O-dog,” trying to be thugged out, some of them even carrying guns like “O-dog.” They quoted him all the time, describing in admiration each scene he was in. Several inner city youth workers and I consistently discussed the film’s influence on youth in 93 and 94.

I’m not trying to argue that films are solely to blame. But I definitely believe that films have influence and sometimes even catalyst certain behaviors or reactions out of individuals.

Nope. If the above didn’t convince you, then how’s this. Profanity: 55 “f” words, 38 “sh” words, and a partridge in a pair tree. Several guys catch on fire, more are shot, and plenty die. Let the kids, little and big, skip this one.

Side Note:
As said above, we recommend you skip this film. But on the occasion that your teen actually has already seen it, you may want to dialogue about the film with them. These questions below may be a help to you.

Conversation Starter
Three Simple Questions (with Answers You May Be Looking for):

  1. What are some of the messages or themes you observed in this movie?

  2. How do you suppose we—as serious Christ-followers—should react to this movie?

  3. How can we move from healthy, Bible-based opinions about this movie to actually living out those opinions?

Jonathan McKee Jonathan McKee is the author of over twenty books including the brand new The Teen’s Guide to Social Media & Mobile Devices, If I Had a Parenting Do Over, 52 Ways to Connect with Your Smartphone Obsessed Kid; and the Amazon Best Seller - The Guy's Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket. He has over 20 years youth ministry experience and speaks to parents and leaders worldwide, all while providing free resources for youth workers and parents on his websites, and You can follow Jonathan on his blog, getting a regular dose of youth culture and parenting help. Jonathan, his wife Lori, and their three kids live in California.

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