Hostage movies and, in particular, hostage negotiation movies premiere every year but only some of the many become famous and iconic. I’ve decided to emphasize those sort of kidnapping movies where terrorism or gaining money is not the main motivation for those, who take hostages within banks or other places. Some hostage takers want to define justice or clean up own reputation. Some is ready to sacrifice own health, prosperity or even life on behalf of another beloved person. Some have obtained financial prize but figured out another crime of conscience and morality. Every of these four hostage negotiation movies, which I’ve watched for more than 20 times altogether, is analyzed upon four main characteristics.
- The image of protagonist, a hostage taker: Sonny Wortzik / Danny Roman / John Q / Dalton Russel.
- Negotiator opposite the door or telephone line.
- The core altruistic motive and goals in the very end
- Hostages and their participation in negotiations and situation generally
Dog Day Afternoon (1976)
One hot summer day three men (one soon leaves) break in American bank department in Brooklyn with intention to take money. Planned as 5-minite job, this bank robbery turns to be a horrific accident with taking hostages and 250 policemen and FBI agents outside the door. Hundreds of people come here from the whole city to watch this a kind of show for Mass Media. Bank robbers and hostage takers are just a couple of losers, who failed own simple plan. Negotiation with police is slow in coming, especially with some interior disputes and personal problems of the main participants.
Hostage Taker and bank robber: Sonny Wortzik (Al Pacino). As a matter of fact, that Dog Day Afternoon is the only of four hostage negotiation movies, based on true events, its protagonist is obviously a reflection of a real person — John Wojtowicz. He is about thirty years old and decides to rob a bank in order to gain money for his homosexual husband to perform gender confirmation surgery. We initially figure out that Sonny did not have sophisticated plan of this event. This robbery was based on some preliminary inside information, Sonny’s former experience as a clerk and imaginary necessity to gain this sum of money (2500). Sonny also has pure common with classical terrorists and bank robbers, as well as negotiators and hostage takers. Despite his threats, he can’t harm people in a bank. He turns a be a weak unhappy person with two collapsing families without any moral support of his actions.
Ultimate goal – surgery for homosexual husband. In this perspective Dog day afternoon is a classic example of hostage movies with altruistic motives. Sonny finalize himself with this desperate action, after finding plenty of accuses why not to earn money in different way. They find only 1100 dollars within bank storage instead of expected sum for three robbers. Even on the edge of the own life, Sonny dictates his will giving all poor belongings to his wife and husband whom he loves. Dog day afternoon depicts him as almost ultimate altruist which complains and sorrows only as a matter of frustration.
Police negotiator — Sergeant Eugene Moretti (Charles Durning). This negotiator is, with all respect to the actor, is the most boring of this four hostage negotiation movies and kidnapping films. Sergeant Moretti does his best to maintain some illusive control over the negotiations and overall situation and save lives of hostages, being actually kidnapped against their will. He even ready to suffer humiliation from the bank robber in order to hold some balance. Moreover, Moretti does not express some peculiar individuality, not ready for some back plan, he in fact expresses indifference to Sonny’s motives, while listening Leon. Moretti is depicted as a typical representative of system, which is opposite to Sonny’s belief and white flag, shouting “Attica”.
Hostages. People stacked in Brooklyn bank gradually take a liking to Sonny as a person and as a hostage of situation himself. The same we will next see in “Negotiator” and “John Q”. Eight women and a manager who are in shock of what is happening but in due course they accept game plan of negotiations. Sonny even trust them to do almost what they need and want within the bank premises and hostages do not intend to break out the street. They even support their taker Sonny and a manager even apologize for some tough behavior.
Lieutenant Danny Roman, Chicago police negotiator (performed by Samuel L. Jackson) is now under investigation on corrupt practice and murder of his police partner. Roman is being humiliated and lost his job – he will probably get in jail and loose his family in fruitless attempts to defend himself being wrong accused. During some tough dispute in Internal Affairs Department Danny takes hostages to attract attention to his situation and citizens, Mass Media along with police and FBI come here from the very city. Roman struggle for his good name and for justice. He wants to figure out those in police department, who are so corrupted to steal money, kill colleges and set another man up for own crimes. They will try to kill former partner who is now a hostage taker. As the accidental criminal is a negotiator himself, police negotiation with his turns to be a piece of work.
Hostage taker – Danny Roman. “Negotiator” depicts exceptional situation among hostage negotiation movies and kidnapping movies, as we see a police officer as a criminal. Police now deals with a former college, who knows the system inside, is aware of all methods of operations and negotiation techniques. Danny Roman has close relations with people, who now do their best to release hostages and, probably, to eliminate the criminal. He has 20 year police experience. Protagonist here is a negotiator himself and able to stress other professionals and even makes acts of provocation. Roman is the most unordinary protagonist of these four hostage movies.
Ultimate goal – Justice and good name. As with other hostage negotiation movies, where hostage taker is a kind of altruist, Danny Roman does now want money. He wants to figure out, who have set him up and kill his partner. His additional demand deals with possible death – to have a funeral like an officer. Along with reputation, protagonist craves to find traitors and thieves among the police officers. People who kills for money and power. So another ultimate goal of this hostage negotiation movie is to clean out the ranks of Chicago Police Department.
Police negotiator — Lieutenant Chris Sabian (Kevin Spacey). “Negotiator” film presents a complex deal within the hostage negotiation movies. Police negotiator now deals not with some crazy criminal, now with terrorist or a bank robber (Sonny Wortzik / Dalton Russel) or desperate father (John Q). He finds another professional policeman on the other side of the telephone line. It becomes a big deal to negotiate such kind of person and to convince him of any thought. For all that, Chris Sabian does all his best to solve this situation in spite of constant outer obstacles. He makes provocations and even trust his opponent in the very end to establish justice.
Hostages. We have less amount of people in this case in comparison with other hostage movies we analyze. Chief of Internal Affairs, his secretary, Chief of police station, former snitch and then another two police officers from SWAT. Protagonist plays his game in order to convince the public and colleges that he is intended to figure the truth whatever it will take. One hostage is being killed by corrupted policemen, one (Frost) was released. Another start to trust Roman and even help him with computer and documents and concealing real intentions of the hostage taker. Markus, SWAT officer shakes Roman’s hand to support him.
JOHN Q (2002)
John Quincy Archibald desperately tries to gather money for the surgery of his own son, who needs heart transplantation. They need 75 000 dollars only to put boy’s name in a list. As an act of despair John Q takes control over the hospital and takes hostages along with doctor and nurses, guard and people who were inside. Such kind of event immediately attracts attention of the publicity, which surround the hospital building.
Hostage taker – John Q. He is a desperate husband and father, who is on the end of own resources to save his son and marriage. His wife shouts at him that he must do something right now. John Q has become a victim of social indifference and in justice after his insurance company made some legal tricks to away from cash payments. Hospital chargers 250 000 dollars to perform a surgery of heart transplantation, after sophisticated process of putting a child into list. Medical expenses constantly grow. John Q (Densel Washington) challenges the system of indifference, who leave its citizens too die without appropriate assistance. We see one of the most emotional negotiation scenes from movies, when John Q shouts: Sick – Help, Sick – Help.
Ultimate goal – life of a child. John Q does not put money issue as a matter of the situation – he does not demand money – he wants his son’s name to be put in a list. John appeals for justice in order to give a chance to a child. This protagonist is the only of four hostage negotiation movies who is ready to sacrifice himself to give a life to another person. So his ultimate and undisputed goal to save his son.
Police negotiator – Lieutenant Frank Grimes (Robert Duvall). He is an old and experienced police officer who now has to deal with this hostage situation. Initially he does not scrutinize the matter and the ultimate intentions of a criminal. Eventually, Grimes, as a husband and father himself, shows his respect to John Q. But his own final motivation is to release hostages even if it coasts a death of John. Finally, Frank is the one who figures out the forgery and ask John to put on police wristbands and in three month Grimes supports his former negotiation opponent in court.
Hostages. Just as another two best hostage movies (“Dog day afternoon” and “Negotiator”), “John Q” movie depicts a kind of psychological connection between a hostage taker and hostages, being actually imprisoned in the premises of a hospital. People also express indignation on the social inequality and injustice, on corrupted money-based medical system. After all the events they even come to the court to support John Q and to reject charges of the own.
INSIDE MAN (2006)
A group of armed criminals in masks barge into Trust Manhattan Bank. An ordinary bank robbery transforms into long-term siege, where police hard to figure out real motives of those, who control bank and hostages. They play cat and mouse game with police negotiator until some authoritative power men interfere with the deal.
Hostage taker — Dalton Russel (Clive Owen), as he calls himself within the prologue. Throughout next two hours we deal with poor information on this person, profession or interests. Acute mind made this extraordinary robbery almost ideal. He may be a part of high-educated social domain. Dalton Russel depicted as highly confident and self-controlled performer with perspective goals, wider than just money or public attention.
Ultimate goal – revealing truth. Dalton Russel emphasize that he has not only obvious financial motives to perform this robbery. He is confident, he can do this. But in fact his choice of a bank is not random. He steals money from a man who “have sold his soul for thirty talents”, dealing with the Nazis within the Holocaust. Dalton states thath it would be inconvenient for him to look into mirror if he only pursues greedy aims. He gives some clues and evident to police in order to reveal old rotten crime of a respectful man.
Police Negotiator — Detective Keith Frazier. Densel Washington performed a role of hostage taker in John Q and here he acts as a NYPD police officer, who negotiate bank robbers. Despite the fact that he has played to someone’s script for a long time, now Frazier broadens the understanding of the situation. Although police chiefs are aimed to close the investigation after all events, Keith Frazier pursues revealing truth on what have happened in that bank.
Hostages. On the one side of a matter, hostages are depicted as faceless group of people. On the other one, “Inside Man” differs from the other hostage movies and hostage negotiation movies in particular, as he shows eyewitness reports aftermath.