The new George Clooney/Julia Roberts film Money Monster (in NZ cinemas this week) presents itself firmly in the mold of the classic hostage crisis thriller, a long-standing cinematic sub-genre which hasn't been especially prominent in the last decade or so.
The notable exceptions to this rule tend to be period pieces, which is a point of distinction shared by Kiwi director Toa Fraser's upcoming thriller 6 Days, which recounts the 1980 hostage crisis at the Iranian Embassy in London. Co-starring Jamie Bell and Mark Strong, the film was partially shot in West Auckland last year.
Ironically, it is perhaps Money Monster's modern setting that makes the film feel so old fashioned. When these overly familiar dynamics are located in a comptemporary environment, the potential for cliché can be very perilously great.
Money Monster isn't a terrible film, but you wouldn't place it alongside the classics of the form, five of which I am going to cite here.
Dog Day Afternoon (1975)
Anti-establishment classic that hasn't seen its vitality or edge dulled one iota in the four decades since its release.
A remarkably high-pitched Al Pacino plays a desperate young man who robs a bank to fund his lover's gender reassignment surgery, but gets caught up in a protracted hostage situation that proves of great interest to both the public and the media.
Sidney Lumet's film continues to cast a long shadow over every hostage crisis drama that aspires to social relevance, usually to their detriment. Examples include Wisdom (1986), Mad City (1997) John Q (2002) and now Money Monster.
Quick Change (1990)
Arguably the first film of its kind since Dog Day Afternoon to really capture that 'New York' feel, this Bill Murray comedy remains an underrated classic from the Groundhog Day era.
He stars with Geena Davis and Randy Quaid as a trio of bank robbers who rely upon the conventions of the classic hostage drama to execute their ingenius escape, but face endless complications trying to get to the airport.
A great way to experience the fist-pumping New York-centric fun of Dog Day Afternoon without feeling depressed afterwards.
Inside Man (2006)
If there's any director other than Sidney Lumet who is qualified to infuse a New York-set hostage crisis film with urgency and relevance, it's Spike Lee, and he did just that with this classy thriller that makes up for its lack of real surprise with a tangible sense of the city it takes place in.
Lee's steady directorial hand elevates the film beyond its easily identifiable trappings, and makes me wish he would make more genre films. The star-studded cast includes money monster director jodie foster.
Directly spoofing Dog Day Afternoon is just one of the many fruitful ideas in this criminally underseen and underappreciated comedy which deserves a much more bountiful cult status than the complete lack of one it currently enjoys.
A committed Brendan Fraser, an oddly quiet Adam Sandler and a batshit crazy Steve Buscemi are a trio of desperate LA rockers who use water pistols to take over a radio station in order to get their band's demo played. Unfairly lumped in with other low brow comedies of the era, this is more than worthy of rediscovery.
Ben Affleck's New Zealand-slighting triple Oscar-winner isn't as concerned with the plight of the hostage takers as the other films mentioned here, but gains metaphorical weight from the method employed to whisk the hostages to safety - under the guise of the making an epic sci-fi movie that doesn't really exist. Who would expect anything less from a bunch of Americans?
Other hostage crisis films worthy of mention include Cadillac Man (1990), A Perfect World (1993), From Dusk Till Dawn (1996), The Negotiator (1998) and Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa (2013)
Favourte hostage crisis movie? Thoughts on Money Monster?