“Bel Canto,” based on Ann Patchett’s best-selling novel about the “Lima Crisis at the Japanese embassy in the Peruvian capital in 1996, is a hostage drama that is also about the power of music to bridge all gaps. It’s also a thriller and a love story. It’s a lot of things that never quite gel into one whole.
The story begins with a South American concert in honour of Japanese industrialist (Ken Watanabe) by opera singer Roxanne Coss (Julianne Moore). As arias and coloratura passages fill the air a group of guerrilla rebels burst in, take everyone hostage and demand their comrades be let out of prison in return for the release of the high falutin’ captives.
Negotiations drag on for over a month, confining the kidnappers and the kidnapped inside a luxury mansion. Soon bonds are forged, romances bloom—a translator (Ryo Kase) begins a clandestine affair with a terrorist (María Mercedes Coroy)—as differences are set aside and commonalities—a love of music, soccer and humanity—are unearthed.
The Stockholm Syndrome of “Bel Canto” is about as convincing as Julianne Moore lip syncing to opera singer Renée Fleming’s beautiful vocals. Splitting the focus of the story between the ensemble gives everyone something to do but never convincingly comes together as one story. I’m sure director Paul Weitz (half of the brother team, with Chris Weitz, who made “American Pie” and “About a Boy”) hoped the story would have political and socioeconomic resonances but it plays more like a soap opera, flitting from scene to scene with an ever-increasing sense of melodrama.