The price of having a bad agent can be lethal – especially in the case of Roxanne Coss (Moore), a talented but tired opera singer who has been booked to perform at a wealthy benefactor’s mansion in a poverty-stricken city. “Italy, England, United States, at least for the next year,” she hisses down the phone to said agent before floating down the stairs, immaculately turned out, to greet her audience.
Mere minutes later, Roxanne is staring down the barrel of a gun; a group of rebel fighters have hijacked the concert and are holding attendees captive in exchange for the release of their imprisoned brothers and sisters. It’s a restless pace chosen by director Paul Weitz, who seems eager to get to the meat of the story: the evolving relationship between those who have the guns and those who don’t. Whether he consciously tips the boat in favour of the rebels or not is unclear, but for most of the film it’s hard to sympathise with the churlish, often condescending nature of the hostages, even with their situation in mind. Worst is Coss, who greets the guerrillas’ pleas to understand their desperate conditions with an all-American “screw you” attitude.
It’s only when the hostility eventually ebbs that the story becomes more engaging. Moore and Watanabe – the film’s biggest names – enjoy a particularly juicy subplot, and the rebels are allowed to become more human as the hostages’ trust in them grows. Watching this strange new order manifest is interesting, and when it inevitably comes crashing down, Weitz cranks up that economical pacing once more and twists the knife extra hard.
This isn’t enough to heighten the lasting impact of Bel Canto, however. The ensemble do their best to bring agency a multifaceted narrative, but its telenovela takes on wider issues cause the film to flatline for its middle act, only springing back to life with a sharp kick of a conclusion.