Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: In anticipation of Captain Phillips, we recommend movies about hostage situations.
A Life Less Ordinary (1997)
More than an hour into A Life Less Ordinary, Cameron Diaz commences a bank robbery by whipping out a gun and declaring that she’d like to make a withdrawal. Her novice kidnapper, Ewan McGregor, admonishes her: “I thought we agreed no clichés.” This warning comes a bit late for the movie itself, which has already built itself up on the foundation of a hoary, borderline regressive convention: Diaz plays a spoiled heiress who finds love when McGregor takes her hostage.
To both the credit and debit of director Danny Boyle, A Life Less Ordinary tries very, very hard to transcend its clichés with sheer weirdness: McGregor and Diaz are thrust together by desperate matchmaking angels (Delroy Lindo and Holly Hunter) who resort to placing them in violent jeopardy to make the coupling stick; the ensuing adventures share the hallucinatory vibe Boyle brought to Trainspotting a year earlier. Some of this effort turns into self-conscious cutesiness—several characters refer to McGregor as a “dreamer” in actual spoken dialogue—but Boyle also undercuts the creepy hostage stuff by giving Diaz the dominance of a screwball heroine, amped up with extra hostility. Her spiky mismatch with McGregor, surprisingly adept at playing a hapless dope, is key to the film’s charm.
But what makes the messy A Life Less Ordinary worth watching is Boyle’s ability to rush music-video energy into his widescreen frame. In one sequence, McGregor and Diaz experience unexplained costume changes for a joyful karaoke performance of “Beyond The Sea.” In another, the driving siren-like riff of R.E.M’s “Leave” gradually increases in volume under a lovers-jeopardy confrontation that increasingly resembles a golden-lit horror movie. (That would be Holly Hunter as the monster.) This is essentially a feature-length version of that 15-minute section of almost any Boyle movie where everything goes bonkers and semi-coherent. Though it was, unsurprisingly, a critical and financial flop, it also somehow kicked off Boyle’s long-standing relationship with 20th Century Fox in the U.S. and established the restless genre hopping he continues to this day.