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Mad City

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Mad City

Starring: John Travolta, Dustin Hoffman
Director: Constantin Costa-Gavras
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 114 Minutes
Release Date: November 1997
Genres: Drama, Suspense

*Also starring: Alan Alda, Mia Kirshner, Robert Prosky, Blythe Danner, Larry King

Review by Walter Frith
2½ stars out of 4

The computerized, synthesized and homogenized society we've built for ourselves in the 90's takes its toll on one man in 'Mad City'. Director Costa-Gavras ('Z', 'Missing', 'Betrayed', 'Music Box') presents a psychological, sympathetic and sometimes compelling portrait of a man whose fight for simplistic values forces a nightmarish confrontation in a small California town.

John Travolta plays a security guard who loses his job due to economic cutbacks at a museum where he was formerly employed and he walks in one afternoon to ask the museum's curator for his job back. He is dismissed quickly as a complainer and is made to feel like a loser when he snaps. He produces a shotgun and fires off a round in anger. While this is happening, a local television reporter (Dustin Hoffman) happens to be on the scene and witnesses the unfolding events from a crack in the men's room door at the museum. To further complicate matters, the shot Travolta fired off in anger ends up wounding a fellow security guard who was friends with Travolta and the shot was accidental and a group of children and their teacher are enjoying a field trip at the time of the siege and needless to say, they're all held hostage. Hoffman is able to use the pay phone inside the men's room and gets hooked up with his station to go live as the story is breaking. He is discovered by Travolta and becomes part of the hostage crisis. The local police, FBI and every media outlet in the area scramble for spot a the scene.

For a film set basically in one location for almost two hours, 'Mad City' is a well crafted but yet low-key story involving a man's loss of dignity and the measures he will go to to get it back. The film harnesses its emotions to breed a look totally convincing and it refuses to become pretentious while examining media ethics at the same time. Involved in the ensuing mayhem is a big time commercial anchorman from NYC (Alan Alda) who used to be a colleague of Hoffman's and co-worker but the two of them had a falling out when Hoffman embarrassed him during live coverage of a plane crash back in New York. Alda flies to California in an attempt to boost his career by getting inside facts on the breaking story as it continues to unfold.

'Mad City' drags at certain points and Dustin Hoffman is upstaged by the nerve ending performance turned in by John Travolta. Hoffman's performance is not to be misunderstood. He is in a desperate situation and remains calm and does a good job of it. It's just that Travolta's character is better written. One interesting piece of information to pass along revolves around the fact that in the original casting of this film, Hoffman was slated to be the hostage taker and Travolta the reporter but things changed and for the better I might add as the characterizations are more believable in this dramatic grandstand.

Copyright 1997 Walter Frith

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