American films

Bel Canto film review: Julianne Moore is terrible in unconvincing captive romance

Frat-pack comedy director was a poor choice to helm this adaptation of a bestseller based on a real-life hostage crisis in Peru. As for Moore, she should count herself lucky few will bother to see her off-key portrayal of an opera singer

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 26 September, 2018, 7:02am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 26 September, 2018, 2:07pm

1/5 stars

Julianne Moore’s involvement in a project is normally as reliable a validation of quality filmmaking as one could hope for. But in the case of Bel Canto, Paul Weitz’s adaptation of Ann Patchett’s bestseller, not only is it a bad film, but Moore is undeniably terrible in it.

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Perhaps the first red flag should have been Weitz, a filmmaker best known for frat-pack comedies American Pie and Little Fockers. Little in his filmography suggests he would be suitable to adapt Patchett’s novel of opera and romance, centred around a South American hostage situation.

Loosely based on the lengthy “Lima Crisis” that unfolded at the Japanese embassy in the Peruvian capital in 1996, Bel Canto depicts the shifting relationships between the terrorists and their high-profile captives during a months-long stand-off.

Among the hostages is world-renowned opera singer Roxanne Coss (Moore), who had been invited to perform at a party held in honour of Japanese industrialist Katsumi Hosokawa (Ken Watanabe). Although unable to speak each other’s language, Coss and Hosokawa form a powerful romantic bond that helps them through their ordeal.

Hosokawa’s translator (Ryo Kase) also begins a clandestine affair with a terrorist (María Mercedes Coroy).

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While the true story, in which captors and captives created a kind of idyllic utopia behind the high walls of their lavish confines, was extraordinary, Weitz’s retelling struggles to be in any way convincing.

The motivations of opposing characters sway too rapidly to be anything but laughable, while Sebastian Koch’s Swiss mediator waltzes about with carefree abandon, one minute begging for people’s lives, the next visiting the pyramids.

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Watanabe does the best he can with a role that demands little more than gallant brow-furrowing, but Moore never sells us on her frosty prima donna. From opera star Renée Fleming’s poorly synced singing to Moore’s own third-act histrionics, one can only presume the Oscar-winning actress assumed nobody was watching her half-hearted efforts.

Fortunately for her, Bel Canto is such a stinker, it’s likely that few people will.

Bel Canto opens on September 27

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