Apparently based on true events, Hostage sees American hostage, Adam Smith (played by Elyes Gabel), being imprisoned in a rather well-lit cellar somewhere in war-torn Baghdad. After the initial shock of his capture wears off Adam starts to increasingly confront his captors, demanding to know whether they intend to kill him and, if so, why. Not surprisingly he finds that he doesn’t like the answers he’s given, which results in a number of prolonged back and forth ethical arguments about the nature of war, and about atrocities caused by both sides of the conflict and about, you guessed it, religion.
With most of the film set in one fairly spartan room, and most of the drama revolving around the lead character, Hostage sinks or swims depending on Gabel’s performance. Elyes manages to portray an okay representation of a New York businessman well out of his comfort zone, but I have to admit I never really warmed to the man. He starts off as being quite whiney, moves along to a rather bolshie state and then finally gets overly sentimental about the Lord’s Prayer. Having said that, if that’s what the guy who it was based on was like then fair play to Gabel for staying true to the person.
When the film does move outside of the room, it’s in the shape of actual documentary footage of life in Baghdad and of the conflict itself, which I’m guessing was used to set the scene and to give the film a bit more in terms of production values. Also of note is the fact that there are no subtitles for when the men of Iraq are speaking their own language and local dialect. I’m guessing this is to increase our appreciation of the paranoia this would have implanted within Adam as he struggles to understand his captor’s conversations amongst each other.
The acting overall is decent and I have to say I preferred the performances of the main Iraqi characters to Gabel’s lead role. I think the film would probably have benefitted from having subtitles for the Arabs so that we could have got to know them a bit better.
Technically speaking the film is competent rather than good with the direction being quite routine and the sound is rather soft and too quiet at times, apart from during the last scene where it goes ‘mental’ for a while!. The music is generally quite subtle and full of melancholy, which tends to suit the story.
The film is obviously pretty low budget and the filmmakers have made a reasonable job of presenting an interesting story for our modern age, even though it does tend to get a bit preachy at times and try and bang home some really obvious points about the nature of war and the human condition. Director Heath Jones also doesn’t make enough of the tension that should have been present in more of the scenes – there’s lots of drama here, but the film just wasn’t dramatic enough to really succeed. I did find the ending surprising though, although not necessarily in a good way... and I can’t help but feel that this would have made a better stage play than film.
Hostage has been released on DVD by 101 Films. There were no extras on the disc.