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Mad City was released in 1997 and received indifferent reviews. Here is my review of the film. Max Brackett (Dustin Hoffman) is a local TV reporter who has seen his career take a downward spiral over the last couple of years. Max used to work for the network but was relegated to the television minor leagues because he couldn?t control his temper on live TV. His boss, Lou Potts (Prosky) seems content with small news stories and doesn?t really have any desire to take on controversial stories likely to improve ratings. Lou gets nervous whenever Max shows ambition, so decides to calm him down by sending him down to the local museum to do a ?feel-good? interview. The museum is in financial trouble and has had to sack staff in order to cut costs. While at the museum Max has the misfortune to meet Sam Baily (John Travolta). Sam is an ex security guard at the museum. He has lost his job as part of the cut backs and is trying to persuade his boss to give him his job back. His plea doesn?t have any impact on his hardened manager, so Sam loses his patience and turns to plan B. Plan B however, is more drastic and involves guns and dynamite. In a moment of madness Sam closes all the exits to the museum, and takes his boss and other visitors to the museum (a group of school children) hostage. Things go from bad to worse for Sam when he accidentally shoots his fellow security guard. Max sees the hostile events from the gent?s toilet and immediately contacts his novice camerawoman who is located outside the museum. Keen to boost his career Max sees the hostage situation as an exclusive and decides to broadcast events live from within the museum. Max?s hiding place and broadcast is soon discovered by Sam, which infuriates the hostage taker even further. Sam starts to wish he hadn?t been so rash and realises that Max is willing to help defuse the situation. Max obviously acts sympathetically, but is actually only thinking about how he can further his own
career. Max cunningly sets up an exclusive interview with Sam and also acts as his negotiator. As the siege escalates, it becomes clear that Sam is not going to be able escape unpunished. Outside the museum there is a huge media presence and crowd. At first Sam is perceived by to the public to be an innocent guy, who made a silly mistake, but as incidents unfold he quickly becomes unpopular. Mad City is an extremely clever film which deals with some original ideas. As mentioned at the beginning of this review Mad City was one of the first films to deal with characters acting rashly under extreme pressure. Well, in this movie Sam?s world seems destroyed when he loses his job. He realises that he can no longer support his family financially and makes a rash decision in the museum. Another area that Mad City deals with well is how the media can influence matters. Max is a clever TV reporter and knows exactly how to influence Sam?s decisions. He prolongs the siege because he knows it will make him more high profile and possibly bring about a job promotion. However it all backfires towards the end of the movie, which makes interesting viewing. I know of a few people who dislike this movie. They don?t know whether to take it seriously and this is mostly due to the silly scenes which are occasionally shown throughout the movie. Mad City is supposed to be a thought-provoking movie but sometimes it goes over the top a little. A prime example of this is when we are shown shots of the crowd outside the museum. I can understand that Sam would have some supporters, but the film shows people selling T-shirts (saying ?Sam Our Hero!?) and merchandise with Sam plastered all over it. This to me seems a little unrealistic as the police would have cordoned off the area and certainly would not have allowed the area to look like a fun fair! There are other moments like this in the movie which don?t really belong. The two main actors make this movie a success.
John Travolta plays Sam, the simple and naïve hostage taker. This is quite a difficult role for Travolta to play because there are so many different sides to the character of Sam. He can sometimes be quite violent, but at the same time caring and gentle, as can be seen when he looks after some of he child hostages. Travolta does a good job and shows another side to his acting. Mad City was his first film after action movie ?Face Off?, so it shows that he can play a wide variety of roles. Shame he didn?t pass up the opportunity to star in ?Battlefield Earth?! Dustin Hoffman has the more straight forward job of playing Max. The character of Max is supposed to be selfish and dislikeable and Hoffman carries this off with supreme confidence. If it wasn?t for these two actors some of the unrealistic scenes would have been farcical. Mad City is an odd film because depending on the viewer?s mood, it could be taken the wrong way. Personally I think it is meant to be a serious thought-provoking movie but some of the areas it deals with are a little over the top. Overall though it is a well acted, intense thriller which should keep you entertained for a couple of hours.
Unfairly ignored on it's cinema release, and admittedly a bit of a stacked deck, Costa-Gavras' amusing assault on the American media is ably performed and hilariously funny. John Travolta is Sam Bailey, a none-too bright museum guard laid off from his job, who returns to take some hostages and get his job back. Among the captives is Max Brackett (Dustin Hoffman), a vaguely shabby journalist who sees the chance to get a bit of exposure by playing the story up. This is territory cinema has traversed before, most notably in Billy Wilder's acidic satire 'Ace in the Hole', where Kirk Douglas' attempts to spin out a mining accident result in the victim's death. In the caring sharing nineties, Brackett is not so ruthless, and sees the error of his ways (but only after he has lost the initiative to the even more monstrous Alan Alda, in loathsome form as a big sleazy TV hack), but the film is still very sharp and takes a painful bite out of the horrors of modern journalism. Hoffman hasn't been on form like this in more than a decade, eating up a sarcastic, ambivalent role with relish. Travolta is sensational as the hostage taker, with his long sideburns and permanently bemused expression, never succumbs to the temptation to sentimentalise his character, acknowledging that Sam is a fool, trying to get justice with a gun because he doesn't have the brains to talk. It's not desperately original, but the media circus is very well depicted, Ted Levine and Blythe Danner have good roles as the cop in charge and a sharp foil for Hoffman respectively, and if nothing else, the film has the guts to follow the logic of the story to a tragic conclusion. Very highly recommended.
Mad City is an earnest effort at media criticism that's never convincing enough to stir a viewer's outrage in the way filmmaker Costa-Gavras (Music Box) might have intended. John Travolta plays a barely educated museum guard who is laid off from his job and ends up holding his former boss (Blythe Danner) and a bunch of schoolchildren hostage. Dustin Hoffman is a former television-network journalist making a grab at the limelight again by pushing and controlling press coverage of the story. What follows is by the numbers and not nearly as enlightening or enthralling as other films (such as Dog Day Afternoon or Billy Wilder's Ace in the Hole) about simple events manipulated into a media circus. Despite Travolta's tragic performance and Hoffman's impassioned one, the film breaks up over efforts to blame electronic voyeurism for social chaos. --Tom Keogh, Amazon.com