Set amidst domestic tension within a non-descript country in Latin America, Bel Canto predominantly follows the perspective of Roxanne Coss (Julianne Moore), an American opera star performing at the private birthday party of Japanese entrepreneur, Katsumi (Ken Watanabe). Attended by black-tie clad foreign dignitaries and mega-rich executives, the bourgeois jamboree is invaded by a heavily armed group of twitchy, generic freedom fighters, and the partygoers are taken hostage. The insurgents’ given motive? The release of their revolutionary brothers and sisters from bondage imposed by an iron-fisted government. Yep. There’s nothing new here.
Unoriginality would be forgivable, but the film is shallow, taking superficial cues from the likes of Dog Day Afternoon and Die Hard, sans wit, tension and characterisation. Much of this is symptomatic of Paul Weitz and Anthony Weintraub’s underdeveloped script. Commandante Benjamin, the lead baddy-who’s-bad, is portrayed with admirable energy by Tenoch Huerta, but as with the rest of the cast, his efforts are significantly held back by paper-thin dialogue and boring exposition. Weitz’s direction – of American Pie fame, by the way – is devoid of creativity, leaving one to ponder the necessity of his involvement.
Three-quarters into the film’s runtime, as an antidote to the plot’s inertia, Weitz and Weintraub shoehorn in parallel romance arcs. One, between Coss and Katsumi, is an awkward affair which unwittingly sells the latter as an obsessive creep. The other, between Katsumi’s translator and a militant, Carmen, is a ham-fisted attempt at drawing sympathy for the captors. This move from cookie-cutter thriller into humanist drama comes too late and crumbles at its disregard for character development, ultimately leading to a guffaw-worthy dénouement.
‘Bel canto’ literally translates to “beautiful singing”, but there’s nothing beautiful to be found in the titular film. A woefully written, poorly paced hostage thriller which struggles to hold its faltering note.
CAST: Julianne Moore, Ken Watanabe, Sebastian Koch, Ryo Kase, Tenoch Huerta
DIRECTOR: Paul Weitz
WRITERS: Paul Weitz, Anthony Weintrab
SYNOPOSIS: A world-renowned opera singer becomes trapped in a hostage situation when she’s invited to perform for a wealthy industrialist in South America.