Mad City 1997 Movie Scene John Travolta as Sam holding a shotgun pointed to his former boss face

Mad City [1997]

I like hostage movies in any shape or form even if they’re a bit slower. Mad City is a slow-burning hostage situation movie with an amazing cast and a thought-provoking plot. We will be following Sam, a disgruntled employee who takes everyone in his former workplace as hostages. Including one news reporter who just happens to be there. And you can already see where they’re going with this one. Basically a two-pronged approach with one prong going after the media frenzy and other after mental health issues.

Both of these subjects are intriguing and worthy of exploration. Media sensationalism has been around for centuries, going back to the UK’s Penny Dreadfuls from the 19th century and even further back. It seems to be something we naturally resort to in this tribal system of values. And as technology and concepts progressed they also became more distilled and stronger. Now they know just how, when, and with what to hit you to get the highest emotional response.

Now, Mad City does have its flaws. The characters are extremely familiar (Average Joe, Executives, The One Man…) and the satire is sometimes too heavy-handed. I also wish they were willing to go a bit further with the script. Like, make an edgy almost absurdist black comedy that’s not afraid to take risks. Still, this is a solid thriller that’s both engaging and entertaining. And a lot of it is down to its cast but more about that later.

Sam Baily used to be a security guard at the museum. He loved his job and he did it well but now he’s unemployed. And Sam doesn’t want to look for another job, he wants to keep his old one despite the recent budget cuts. So he goes back to his old workplace to reason with the museum manager. And to be just a tad bit more persuasive, he brings a sawed-off shotgun and a bag full of explosives.

I’m betting that as soon as you saw Dustin Hoffman in a hostage situation you remembered his seventies classic Dog Day Afternoon. He was excellent both in that movie and in this one along with John Travolta. We’ll also get the chance to see Alana Alda and the delightful Mia Kirchner. And while Hoffman was the media side of the story, Travolta was the ordinary guy getting fucked by the system side of the story. And of course, I empathized with his character more. He had that Michael Douglas Falling Down vibe going on. Or perhaps even some of Denzel’s John Q

You could say that we already saw some of the themes raised in Mad City before, like in another seventies classic Network. However, media has advanced since then and so have we, as a society. And while we’re dropping names, I have another movie recommendation for you. Hoffman also stars in 1997 Wag The Dog, a more cheerfully cynical movie about media manipulation that you simply must check out. That movie is so subversive that I oftentimes wonder how it was produced and released!

Director: Costa-Gavras

Writers: Tom Matthews, Eric Williams

Cast: Dustin Hoffman, John Travolta, Alan Alda, Mia Kirshner, Blythe Danner, William Atherton

Fun Stuff: The four-engine business jet shown is a Lockheed Jetstar.


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