There's a superb cast assembled here. You have Faye Dunaway, Gary Sinise, Viggo Mortensen, Joe Mantegna and several others. It's like a play - primarily set in one small, claustrophobic basement bar with only one exit. There's a trio of brothers who are petty thieves who take the few bar people hostage while they try to think their way out of their mess. In the meantime the cops and news reporters do their usual dances outside.
This is of course a theme that's been done many, many times in many situations. How the hostage-takers each have different views on what to do and fight amongst themselves. How the hostages first rebel against the situation and then try to work with the captors in order to work things out. How the newscasters "screw things up" for the cops by broadcasting information they shouldn't.
I really appreciated that, while the movie is inherently about violence and threatened violence, that they didn't make the movie about gore. They explicitly set scenes up so that you see what's coming - but you don't see the actual damage. You see the results reflected in the eyes of the actors. It's about the emotion and the impact.
The problem isn't the directing - Kevin Spacey does a nice job of framing the shots and setting the pace. You feel the tension build as the characters stay locked in this small space for hour after hour. The problem isn't the actors either - each of the actors gives their character a sense of honest realism that reflects their skills.
The problem isn't the "setup" either - most plays are set up exactly like this one and many of those do fantastically well on the movie screen. I could name a ton of movies that are set primarily in one room, where that helps the characters to shine.
The issue here is the writing. You can see the actors really struggle to deliver the lines with feeling - but it can be really difficult. First, the 3 brothers. Matt Dillon's character is a not-smart flip-flopper who starts to agree with whoever talked with him last. William Fichtner is the psychotic one who wants to kill everyone - he even slugs his own brother for the hell of it. Gary Sinese is the smart brother, but he doesn't have much influence over his brothers. The dynamics between these three could really have been incredible - but instead the dialogue makes it frustrating and at times inane. When characters start dropping, you really are rooting for some of the brothers to go.
The bar patrons really aren't fleshed out enough for you to care much about them. In fact, Faye's character comes off rather rough at the beginning - especially with her son being there, it's hard to believe she'd really antagonize the gun-toting criminals as much as she does. Viggo's character, as the super-quiet Canadian, has almost zero personality. His great talent with languages could really have been shown off, given that the character seems to be French speaking, but it isn't.
In all, there was huge potential - but the script's flaws were just too large to overcome. I found the experience quite unsatisfying.
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