This is yet another hard-to-find film that is very much worth a re-issue. Right now, copies can be purchased on VHS, but not on DVD. A pity, really, since this deserves a new audience for at least two of its stars who have subsequently gone on to Academy Award winning performances, in addition to multiple awards for other roles, long after "Hostages" was made. While Kathy Bates plays to type in very much a secondary role, Colin Firth is a revelation. So much of his early work is far beyond any of the romantic leads he has played post "Pride and Prejudice", though he has managed the challenging and/or quirky part here and there to keep him from being completely typecast.
This film works on many levels and, though it was controversial at the time because of its fact/fiction telling of the story, it really stands up as a dramatic and powerful work on its own, largely because of its stellar cast and its searing tale of ordinary men, caught up in a world-gone-crazy, circa 1980's Lebanon and Middle East turmoil.
There is a revelatory book-ended moment at the beginning and end of this film, where the character of John McCarthy, played by Firth, is chained naked in a cell and completely freaks out over the roaches crawling all over. Towards the end of the film, he offhandedly flicks a roach off his bare chest, in a gesture of accepting boredom. This pretty much sums up the journey these hostages make in their 5+ years' life as captives in a hellish world that they must, eventually, accept, or wither away.
The horrible indignities and hideous living conditions these men are forced to endure contrast glaringly with the mundane, bureaucratic world their relatives and loved ones move through in their efforts to save them, year after painful year.
The story that is ultimately told, against all the real world politics, violence, and terrorism, is that what saves these men in their filthy hell-hole living conditions, is their grasp on what makes them sane. And the fact that they could bond with each other and share the horrors of what befell them every day. One of their greatest fears eventually became simply being alone.
Ciaran Hinds as Irishman Brian Keenan relies on his anger and rage and, eventually the close bond formed with Firth's John McCarthy to get him through the endless days and years. Hinds is a powerhouse in this role and the chemistry with Firth is a very important aspect of what makes this movie work.
Colin Firth plays the fresh-faced young reporter, who eventually becomes a man, as one who learned to find humor and levity in the worst of circumstances. Bruised. Beaten. He manages to rise above and even take things cheerfully upon occasion. I am not sure of a better moment in his long, superb career, though, that matches the look on his face when he sees his fiancée, played by Natasha Richardson, talking about him on a TV the captors allow them to use briefly in their cell. Every emotion in the book is reflected in his face and it is heart-rending.
The other hostages are more famous in the US -- Terry Anderson , Terry Waite, and Frank Reed -- played by Jay O. Sanders (in a touching performance), Conrad Asquith, and Harry Dean Stanton (fantastic in his performance as well). All find ways to bond with each other, and cling to what makes them sane individually. Realistically, some of their attributes are portrayed as irritating or dull, but all understandable in their situation.
There are amazing, and harrowing moments to be had in this production. Besides the beatings and indignities, the young guards use a particularly ingenious and horrible method of moving their prisoners, wrapped head to toe in packing tape. This nearly killed the hostages as often their breathing was obstructed in their coffin-like compartments. How they survived this is a head-scratcher, but they did.
I can't praise this HBO production highly enough. If one is a fan of any of the actors involved, it is a must-see/must-have movie.
Again, having it released onto DVD would be terrific, but I doubt this will ever happen.