Stylistically, the film is well-executed, with a standout performance
by Travolta. He is troubled, distracted, comical in his ineptness
amidst a media event that gets him on Larry King Live and
The Tonight Show. Sam's frustration and his lack of vocabulary
to express it are beautifully portrayed. I love director Costa-Gavras's
choice to leave in (or to engineer) mispronunciations and slips
of the tongue by all the characters as they go for days with no
sleep. Hoffman is calm, quiet, but absolutely determined to run
this show; a subtle calculation permeates his character. The film
establishes a palpable tension very early on; this falters at
times, but generally remains. Blythe Danner and Mia Kirshner give
good performances as the museum curator and Max's assistant, respectively;
Alan Alda is typically bland as the network anchor.
Good acting and directing, however, can't always save a script
riddled with trite sensibilities. The anti-media bent of Tom Matthews's
text is also comical, though not meant to be. The bloodthirsty
press is stereotyped so badly that the entire film loses credibility.
Max is so driven to revive his career, he will stop at nothing,
including endangering the lives of the children. What's more,
the huge press corps that follows the story from outside the museum
is like a pack of hungry sharks, launching into a feeding frenzy
every time there is the slightest development. They trample flowerbeds,
they edit tapes to turn words around, and when two of the children
are released as a goodwill gesture, the reporters practically
run them over to get the story. All of this is capped by the transformation
of Max's young assistant, who goes in a few days from a thoughtful
human being to the leader of the wolfpack, actually reveling when
something tragic happens. Matthews may be trying to make some
sort of personal statement, but his self-indulgence carries the
film to the point of being laughably unrealistic.
Another problem is that although the children are held hostage
for at least three days, they seem completely unconcerned, actually
having quite a good time. Sam means them no harm, and he does
whatever he can to make them comfortable, but still there is never
once a crying child during this shotgun-armed, parent-less siege.
Matthews must not have kids.
Go to see it for the acting, for the laughs, for the thought-provoking qualities. But please disregard the stupidity. ****
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