Taking a true story and altering it for dramatic purposes is nothing new, it’s been done time and time again, however, it is generally frowned upon, particularly if it trivialises what happened, or doesn’t reflect the truth.
Bel Canto is one such movie, based very loosely on the 1996 Peru “Japanese Embassy” hostage crisis that lasted 126 days, it sees renowned opera singer Roxanne Coss, Julianne Moore (“Kingsman: The Golden Circle“, “Suburbicon“), become an unwitting part of a hostage crisis.
Coss has been paid to sing for the President at a local dignitaries residence, this is in the hope that Japanese businessman Hosokawa, Ken Watanabe (“Isle Of Dogs“, “Inception”), will build his new factory there.
However, Hosokawa has no intention of building his factory in this poor, neglected neighbourhood, but has taken the offer up because he’s a huge fan of Coss and has heard her sing many, many times. Together with his interpreter Gen, Ryo Kase (“Silence“, “Letters From Iwo Jima”), they too are caught up in this hostage situation.
That’s our main bunch, although you also get Christopher Lambert (“Highlander”, “The Blacklist (TV)”), for reasons I’m not totally sure about. Tenoch Huerta (“The 33“, “How I Spent My Summer Vacation”), Johnny Ortiz (“Ali”, “Peppermint”) and Maria Mercedes Coroy (“Ixcanul”) make up some of the hostage takers.
The hostages are taken early, so the majority of the film is given away to being within the confines of the large residence they’ve taken over, the police and media camped outside. That and the back and forth of the red cross negotiator, Sebastian Koch (“Bridge Of Spies“, “The Danish Girl“), as he attempts to free the hostages.
Whilst I’ve no doubt that being involved in something like this must be absolutely terrifying, you get very little sense of that in Bel Canto. Director Paul Weitz (“American Pie”, “About A Boy”), who co-wrote with Anthony Weintraub (“Tekkoninkreet”) from the novel by Ann Patchett, doesn’t bring any sense of fear or claustrophobia into the movie at all.
Instead Bel Canto is primarily a love-story between Coss and Hosokawa, as well as Gen and Carmen (Maria Mercedes Coroy). The atmosphere within the residence quickly goes calm, all parties sitting to eat together, even enjoying a game of football and learning each other’s languages.
From a performance point of view it’s Coroy who stands out, alongside Kase, the two shine when on screen, their attraction for each other obvious.
This isn’t Moore or Watanabe’s best performances; Moore seems to struggle with the lip-syncing aspects of becoming an opera singer, whilst Watanabe just looks like a wounded animal throughout, even when he’s the cat that got the cream.
The story is partly true to the actual events of the near four-month situation. However, I don’t understand the addition of a famous opera singer, a love story or two, when the true-story would make a gripping drama.
The story of how the forces prepared for the eventual raid, how they apparently executed many of the hostage takers, who were surrendering, and were later hunted for trial by Peruvian authorities, for example. Then again, sadly, we’ve seen that story too many times.