Mad City (film)

Mad City is a 1997 American thriller film directed by Costa-Gavras, written by Tom Matthews based on a story by Matthews and Eric Williams, and starring Dustin Hoffman and John Travolta, with a supporting cast featuring Mia Kirshner, Alan Alda, Blythe Danner, Ted Levine, Raymond J. Barry, and Larry King. This is Costa-Gavras' first English-language film since Music Box (1989). The title comes from a nickname of Madison, Wisconsin, where it originally was going to be set,[4] and was used for its multiple meanings.

Mad City
Theatrical release poster
Directed byCosta-Gavras
Produced by
Screenplay byTom Matthews
Story by
  • Tom Matthews
  • Eric Williams
Music byThomas Newman
CinematographyPatrick Blossier
Edited byFrançoise Bonnot
Distributed byWarner Bros.
Release date
  • November 7, 1997 (1997-11-07)
Running time
114 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Budget$50 million[2][3]
Box office$10.5 million[2]


After being sacked from his job at a museum, former security guard Sam Baily returns to the place with a shotgun and dynamite and takes his former boss Mrs. Banks and a number of children (at the museum on a school field trip) as hostages. Local television journalist Max Brackett is in the museum using the restroom after an interview with the curator about financial difficulties. He becomes directly involved in the hostage situation, acting as Baily's intermediary to the outside world and the police.

Baily accidentally shoots a friend of his, Cliff, who's still working there as a security guard, sending him to the hospital. He later fires the weapon again, frightening the children and becoming increasingly unstable as he takes caffeine pills to stay awake. Along with the young intern coworker Laurie among the growing media circus outside, Brackett reports the inside story exclusively on television, reviving his career. By being free to come and go, he negotiates with a national network and its star news anchorman, Kevin Hollander, with whom Brackett has an unhappy history.

Baily wants the police to let him return home to his wife and kids, refusing to accept that he's going to jail. Brackett, on the other hand, makes a deal rather than let Hollander have the story, prompting Hollander to publicly accuse Brackett of prolonging the crisis and endangering the children. Laurie then betrays Brackett, proving that, like him, she's willing to do whatever it takes to further her own career.

When his friend Cliff dies, Baily starts to realize he's lost everything. Baily and Brackett allow the situation to worsen until the police finally have had enough, issuing a five-minute ultimatum to Baily for release of the hostages. Baily lets the children and Mrs. Banks go. He also sends out Brackett to try to convince the police to put down their guns so he could personally usher out Baily. But rather than face prison and his wife Baily locks the museum doors on Brackett, who's outside trying to get the police to listen.

Brackett tries to get him to come out, but Baily ignores him. Brackett is unaware that Baily has decided to set off his explosives, committing suicide. The blast knocks Brackett off his feet and into the parking lot, sending debris everywhere. As reporters surround Brackett to ask about Baily, all he can say is, "We killed him," referring to how the media handled the situation.



Box office

In the United States, Mad City opened at #6 at the box office with an opening weekend gross of $4.6 million. It went on to gross $10.5 million and when compared to its $50 million budget, Mad City was a box office bomb.[2]

Critical reception

The film has a score of 36% on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 28 reviews; on Metacritic, the film had a score of 45 out of 100 (mixed or average) based on 23 reviews. Film critic Roger Ebert noted Mad City is inspired by the film Ace in the Hole and gave the movie two stars (out of four), writing: "The movie knows what it wants to do, but lacks the velocity for lift-off."[5]

At the 1997 Stinkers Bad Movie Awards, Travolta was nominated for Worst Actor but lost to Tom Arnold for McHale's Navy.[6]


  1. "MAD CITY (15)". British Board of Film Classification. November 25, 1997. Retrieved February 6, 2016.
  2. "Movie Mad City - Box Office Data". The Numbers. Retrieved August 18, 2011.
  3. "Mad City (1997)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved August 18, 2011.
  4. Dudek, Duane. "Before the state Capitol protests there was 'Mad City'". Journal Sentinel. Retrieved April 4, 2015.
  5. Roger Ebert (November 7, 1997). "Reviews - Mad City". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved August 5, 2007.
  6. "The Stinkers 1997 Ballot". Stinkers Bad Movie Awards. Archived from the original on August 18, 2000.
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