[Screen It]


(1997) (Dustin Hoffman, John Travolta) (PG-13)

Blood/Gore Disrespectful/
Bad Attitude
Tense Scenes
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Moderate None Minor None Moderate
Smoking Tense Family
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Drama: A distraught man inadvertently takes a group of children hostage in a museum while a hungry, seasoned reporter tries to resurrect his career covering the story.
Max Brackett (DUSTIN HOFFMAN) is a hard-working reporter who was once an up and coming star at the network. However, after an on-air tirade with nightly news anchor Kevin Hollander (ALAN ALDA), Max was sent out to pasture in Madeline, California at a small affiliate station. He's not happy there, mainly because he has to cover small stories, such as the budget cutbacks at the local museum. Working on that story with the station's intern, Lori (MIA KIRSHNER), Max feels like he's hit a new low. Things quickly change, however, after their interview with museum director Mrs. Banks (BLYTHE DANNER) is done. Sam Baily (JOHN TRAVOLTA), a laid off security guard, arrives and wants to talk to Banks about getting his job back, but when she won't listen, Sam pulls out a gun. Max, who happens to be in the men's room at the time, calls the station and begins a live broadcast covering this unfolding crisis.

After Sam accidentally shoots Cliff (BILL NUNN), his former coworker, the situation turns decidedly more serious and Sam finds himself with a roomful of children as his hostages. Max finds himself knee- deep in a career resuscitating story and takes charge, much to Sam's relief as he never prepared for events to unfold like this. Soon the police and other media arrive, and Max tries to help Sam get his point across as the media circus builds. He's successful until two things happen that undermine his efforts. First, Sam's limited comprehension begins to get more cloudy from a lack of sleep. Then Hollander arrives wanting Max to relinquish his exclusive to him in exchange for another shot at the network. As things get way out of hand, Max must decide whether to help himself or Sam, whose future grows more uncertain as time passes.

Preteens probably won't, but teens who are fans of the leads, particularly Travolta, just might.
For depiction of a hostage situation, including violence and brief language.
  • DUSTIN HOFFMAN plays a reporter who molds the unfolding events to best serve his own needs, but he eventually does become concerned about Sam's life as things take a turn for the worse.
  • JOHN TRAVOLTA plays a lower middle-income man who's been laid off from his job. He goes to ask for his job back (armed with a gun and explosives) and then finds himself in a situation that continually gets worse, especially when he begins to suffer from sleep deprivation.
  • ALAN ALDA plays a ruthless nightly news anchor who wants to make the story his, no matter the consequences.
  • MIA KIRSHNER plays the TV station's intern who grows decidedly more callous (as a TV reporter) as the story unfolds.


    OUR TAKE: 8 out of 10
    Any time you mix two high profile and extremely popular actors together in a movie, the results are often unpredictable. Will the two get along and make a great movie, such as Newman and Redford did in "Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid?" Or will there be rumors of on set ego clashes and continual rewriting of the script to appease one star and then the other, as was reported during the making of Michael Douglas and Val Kilmer's thud, "The Ghost & The Darkness?" We're happy to report that we've heard of no such tiffs on the set of "Mad City," and the result is a fabulous movie that showcases both Dustin Hoffman and John Travolta's fine performances.

    Director Costa Gavras, working from Tom Matthews's script, has turned it into something you're probably not expecting when you sit down with your popcorn waiting for the previews to begin. While the movie initially appears to focus on the hostage situation and Travolta's "demands" (a little like Pacino in "Dog Day Afternoon" or any other hostage movie), it changes gear midstream and proceeds to deliver a powerful and scathing blow at the media. That's actually a good thing, because the hostage story could only go so far -- we've seen it done many times before -- and as Max tells Sam in this movie, the bad guy always gets shot in the end. Fortunately when that part of this movie begins to lose steam, the plot essentially splits into two interrelated stories that equally hold our interest. But Gavras is after bigger game, and the media circus that often develops around such events is his target. Essentially a case study of how the media can easily sway with, or cause the public to react to a story, the movie fortunately never feels too heavy handed or preachy.

    That's mainly due to the great performances that come as no surprise from these two tremendous acting talents. Hoffman delivers his usual, intense role where he makes us feel that the world's going to end if what he wants or believes in doesn't happen. While that sounds melodramatic, it's not, and Hoffman's reputation for digging deep into his character pays off here and he comes off as completely believable. You can nearly see Max's eyes glisten while he strains to hold in the drool as he salivates over the tremendous possibilities unfolding before him. Travolta, on the other hand, is really into playing darker characters nowadays, and while Sam isn't a purely evil guy -- he's a working stiff who's down on his luck -- he does have a mean streak that becomes more apparent as every sleepless hour passes by.

    What makes his character tolerable is that Travolta's created him as such a sympathetic guy that you just want to reach out to the screen and help the poor man out. He's also quite funny (unintentionally as a character) in some scenes, such as when he has to ask Max what his "demands" are as he can't think quickly enough to answer that question for himself. The tragedy that follows, however, is that as he gets less sleep and loses faith in Max's help, he slowly but surely digs his own grave. Regarding that, Gavras makes sure the media, and not Sam, comes off as the villain.

    The supporting cast delivers fine performances with Alan Alda giving the best as a ruthless news anchor. While he may look a little long in the tooth nowadays to sit in such a media conscious position, Alda creates a driven character who proves to be an equal match -- if not the occasionally superior competitor -- to Hoffman's idealistic Max. That and everything else about the movie work so well that it's enjoyable watching the film click at every right spot.

    While some may see the film trying too hard to push its agenda -- an attack on the media -- we felt that it fit in perfectly and seemed a natural evolution of the plot and therefore didn't stand out. Others may be tired of Travolta now appearing in nearly every film made (it's not true, it only seems that way), but his take on this down and out character is a winner. And that's how we feel about "Mad City" as a whole. It may not be the happiest film around, but its execution and performances are very good. Thus, we give it an 8 out of 10.

    Few preteens will want to see this film and that's because its subject matter seems more adult-based than its PG-13 rating suggests. That's not to mean that the material should have warranted an R, as what occurs easily falls into the PG-13 criteria. There is some violence, real and threatened, and a man is shot and an explosion presumably kills another person. Profanity does contain one "f" word and an assortment of "lesser" words and phrases. The "terrorist" obviously has some bad attitudes as do the press that cover his story.

    The movie does take the press to task for how they cover such stories and that's a good thing for kids to see and a good topic of discussion with them. Preteens, if allowed to see this, may worry that they'll be taken as hostages, but the kids in this movie are no worse for the wear and rarely appear frightened. Since some children -- mainly teens -- will want to see this, we suggest that first you read through the content to determine whether it's appropriate for them or for you.

  • Sam mentions that he had three beers after a softball game.
  • People have drinks in a bar while watching the crisis unfold on TV.
  • Hollander drinks liquor with a network man.
  • Some network guys drink liquor.
  • Cliff's shirt is a little bloody after he's been shot.
  • A man's head is a little bloody after an explosion injures him.
  • Although Sam never intended for his actions to create a hostage situation or the resulting media circus, he did come to the museum with a gun and a bag of dynamite, so he had some bad intentions. Additionally, he doesn't let the kids go until later in the film.
  • Max uses this story for his own good and molds the progression of events to suit his needs.
  • Hollander and the rest of the media also decide to use the crisis for their own needs.
  • Max gets after Laurie for helping Cliff (after he was shot) and tells her that she must decide whether to be part of the story or be there to report on it.
  • On videotape we see Hollander being insensitive after a plane wreck and asking Max on live TV if the victims' bodies were all torn up (for the sensationalistic aspect, not because he personally cares).
  • As Max broadcasts via a phone in the men's room, Sam nearly finds him, and since we're not initially sure of Sam's motives, the scene is tense.
  • A great deal of the movie has an aura of tension due to the situation.
  • Snipers move into position above a rooftop window and fire at Sam.
  • A man tries to kill himself with a gun that repeatedly misfires.
  • Shotgun: Used by Sam to keep everyone at bay. He also accidentally shoots his former co- worker with it, and later purposefully shoots it out a window to make a point.
  • Dynamite: Seen in Sam's bag, and later used to blow up part of the museum.
  • Rifles: Carried by the police and fired at Sam by a S.W.A.T. team.
  • Phrases: "Screwed," "Bastard," "Moron," "Shut up," "Piss him off," and "Screws" (nonsexual).
  • While not originally intended to work out this way, Sam creates a hostage situation (and originally came prepared for action with a gun and explosives) to get his job back.
  • Some school kids stuff a sandwich into a mounted bear's mouth in the museum.
  • We see a man try to kill himself with a gun.
  • None.
  • There's just a little bit of tense music in a few scenes.
  • None.
  • 1 "f" word, 3 "s" words, 4 asses (2 using "hole"), 3 hells, 2 damns, 1 S.O.B., 1 crap, and 3 uses of "Oh God," 2 uses each of "Jesus," "Oh Christ," and "Oh Jesus," and 1 use of "Oh my God," "G-damn," "For God's sakes" and "My God" as exclamations.
  • Max jokingly tells Laurie that he's gay when he thinks she might be too friendly with him.
  • Standing at a urinal and wearing a microphone (that Laurie can hear back at the news truck), Max does a mock interview with "Dick" and comments that he's not an "upstanding" fellow anymore, and that he has "a little tickle" for the young intern, Laurie.
  • None.
  • Cliff's daughter sees the newscast of the hostage situation on TV and finds out that her father has been wounded. The family then visits their wounded father/husband in the hospital and must later deal with his death.
  • Sam is unhappy (and scared) about how his wife will react, and his wife must deal with everything that happens. One scene shows his son saying, "That's my daddy" when seeing him on TV, but there's not much else of a reaction from his kids.
  • There's some brief material with the parents reacting to their kids being kidnaped.
  • How the media covers news stories and whether they shape the story and the public's reaction to fit their own needs (ratings, etc...).
  • Hostage situations and creating one to have demands met.
  • Sam's gun accidentally goes off and Cliff, his former coworker, is shot and wounded through a door. He later dies.
  • Sam accidentally shoots his gun when the phone startles him.
  • Sam purposefully shoots his gun out the window to get his point across to the police and the media.
  • Some snipers shoot at Sam through a rooftop window.
  • An explosion blows up part of the museum and presumably kills someone inside and wounds someone outside.

  • Reviewed October 14, 1997

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